Buoyed by the success of a program it presented several years ago as part of the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, this weekend Chatham Baroque revisits the theme of Jewish music culture for a concert called "Journeys: Sounds of the Jewish Diaspora."
Joining the ensemble will be New York vocalist Anna Levenstein, who specializes in early music. "She has a lot of experience singing this early Jewish repertoire," says Chatham Baroque's Scott Pauley, who plays the theorbo (a small, plucked string instrument), lute and baroque guitar. The ensemble's other guest performer is percussionist Danny Mallon. "He'll have the whole Mediterranean percussion array onstage -- Middle Eastern tap drums, Italian tambourines and Spanish castanets," says Pauley.
The program explores both traditions of European Jewish culture: Ashkenazic and Sephardic. The Eastern European strains, according to Pauley, are drawn mostly from melodies they collected from a newly published anthology called The Folk Songs of Ashkenaz. "Many were around in more schmaltzy editions, but these go back to the real tunes. Some might have a bit of a rhythmic klezmer feel, though we won't be using the instruments of a modern klezmer band."
The Sephardic repertoire, meanwhile, is written in the Judeo-Spanish Ladino language. It "has that plaintive, almost gypsy-like sound," Pauley explains. "Most are tunes that have been passed down that we don't have any written records of until the 19th century -- there's quite a lot of debate about when they arose."
Yet some are directly attributable to composers. "We're doing Venetian carnival pieces from the 17th century -- a composer named Salomone Rossi, whose music is in Hebrew but sometimes appeared in a dual edition of Italian. There are a couple of non-Jewish composers who wrote Hebrew psalms intended for Jewish worship. And we're doing an instrumental by the Italian Marco Uccellini called 'La Ebrea Marinata' -- 'The Seafaring Jew.'"
Chatham Baroque. "Journeys: Sounds of the Jewish Diaspora." 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 16. Synod Hall, 125 N. Craig St., Oakland. Also 2:30 p.m. Sun., Feb. 17. Levy Hall, Temple Rodef Shalom, 4905 Fifth Ave., Oakland. $22 ($20 seniors, $8 students). 412-687-1788