The Israeli Chamber Project and Karim Sulayman delight in an impassioned collaboration

United StatesUnited States Various: Israeli Chamber Project (Carmit Zori, Kobi Malkin Andreoli [violins], Guy Ben-Ziony [viola], Michael Korman [cello], Tibi Cziger [clarinet], Sivan Magen [harp], Assaff Weisman [piano]), Karim Sulayman (tenor). Merkin Hall, New York, 12.4.2024. (DS)

Israeli Chamber Project and tenor Karim Sulayman © Judy Kuan

R. Schumann Fantasiestücke, Op.73
Gity Razaz – Flowing Down the Widening Rings of Being (world premiere)
Zohar SharonThe Ice Palace
Debussy Danse sacrée et danse profane
Naji Hakim – The Dove
Barber (arr. Yuval Shapiro) – Knoxville: Summer of 1915

It is spring, and New York City is blooming with music festivals and series, which can pose a challenge for smaller concerts that might get lost in the plethora. The Israeli Chamber Project at Merkin Hall was worth a step out of the big halls and subscription concerts. Joined by Lebanese-American tenor Karim Sulayman, they presented an enticing array of works that ranged from Robert Schumann to contemporary composer, Gity Razaz.

Razaz is an American composer of Iranian origin, and her exciting work, Flowing Down the Widening Rings of Being, was rightly the evening’s centerpiece. It is a song cycle that she wrote with Sulayman in mind, and the multiple sections respond to poems by Rilke and Rumi. Razaz strives to use music as the connection between inner and outer worlds, and each song resonated as both wild and communicative. At the same time, her compositional toolkit of styles was stitched together with a variety of textures that created a sensitive, ponderous quality with mesmerizing content. Throughout, one could hear the bittersweet dichotomies play out from the poets’ words via her musical settings.

Sulayman’s performance settled quickly into an easy but impassioned style. His heavenly sustained tones were colorful and hypnotic, as if he sang with no need for oxygen, and he approached the vocal range required for Razaz’s work effortlessly. A tall, towering presence, his smile shined down on the audience, inviting and enrapturing.

Also notable on the program was Samuel Barber’s rarely heard Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Once again, Sulayman performed with the chamber group in this lilting, nostalgic composition that the players presented with either burning passion or darkly quiet warmth as Barber’s work required. It was easily my favorite on the program, but in many ways it was also the most skillfully crafted by the musicians.

Other interesting works enlivened the evening. The Dove by Naji Hakim is a short but powerful work that relayed peace as assertive and boisterous. Then, The Ice Palace, as its name implies, was gleaming and glistening in both sonic creations and melodic lines, which often took a cinematic turn in style.

From the French repertoire, the group played an energetic rendition of Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane. In Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, they leaned well into each movement’s character, and clarinetist Tibi Cziger led the group with beautifully melodic, swooning vigor.

All the works settled well together in what was one of the more unique recitals this season. And, as proves to be the case again and again, collaboration between musicians is further testament to the fact that the world’s divisions are simply human-made and very possibly reversible. The special alchemy of music and friendship will always overshadow any barrier meant to harm the peoples of this world. We have the members of the Israeli Chamber Project and Karim Sulayman to thank for that reminder.

Daniele Sahr   

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