Music is the arena where nations and peoples come nearest to humanity’s ideals of social and cultural harmony. Last night at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Adrienne Haan, a German chanteuse (note the French descriptor) and her German pianist and music director Heinz Walter Florin collaborated with an Israeli string quartet in a sparkling program of songs, mostly from the first half of the 20th century, from German, Yiddish, and Israeli traditions.
It was the debut of a finely crafted concert called “Tehorah,” a delicately choreographed cabaret show with expert arrangements by Florin in a classical-romantic mode. Haan introduced the songs with poetry and narrative and put them across with crystalline vocals – and with old-fashioned theatrical flourishes, a stylized sort of emotionality that struck this American attendee as a little distancing. But along with the rest of the crowd, which included the German and Israeli ambassadors to the United Nations, I warmed quickly to Haan’s style, aided mightily by her sheer grace and her evident enthusiasm for the material, as well as by Florin’s rich, tasteful settings performed exquisitely by him and the string quartet.
Haan sang as fluently in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew as she did in her native language. The German with the blonde pixie-cut showed the hallmark of the true artist, absorbing songs from Jewish culture into her stage persona and temperament and working them convincingly into a tapestry of worldwide aspirations for peace. The occasion was, in fact, the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations.
The program wove songs from the Weimar cabaret era, including “Pirate Jenny” from Threepenny Opera and a pair of tunes directly addressing homosexuality and gender fluidity, together with Yiddish songs by Chava Alberstein, Israeli ones by Sasha Argov, a beautiful pop number by Moti Hamer called “One Human Tissue,” and the World War II soldiers’ favorite “Lili Marleen.” It closed with “Yerushalayim Shel Zahar” (“Jerusalem of Gold”), an unofficial Israeli national anthem from the 1960s that I remember well from Hebrew School.
Besides “Pirate Jenny” and “Lili Marleen,” “Yerushalayim” was only piece among the show’s 15 selections that I knew. Yet Haan and the musicians made the whole sequence into a world that felt comfortable and familiar, as well as engaging and bracing. The string quartet consisted of violinists Netanel Draiblate and Perry Tal, violist Shmuel Katz, and cellist Yoni Draiblate. Their fine playing helped make “Tehorah,” which means “pure” in Hebrew, something more than purely a cabaret show. You might call it “classical crossover.” But even more, it was a rewarding cultural crossover.
“Tehorah” was part of GetClassical’s 2015-16 season “establishing intimate settings for artistic collaborations.” We recently profiled GetClassical and its founder Ilona Oltuski, a sometime Blogcritics contributor.