Arts & Culture » Lit Critic's Choice

Alberto Mizrahi and Chorale Mystique

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Alberto Mizrahi, a Greek-born cantor with the north-side Anshe Emet Synagogue, has been studying Jewish chants since childhood. His knowledge of them is encyclopedic, and his remarkably pliant tenor brings out the nuances in inflection and accent that set apart their regional variations. For almost three decades he and conductor Matthew Lazar have been presenting Jewish music to a wider audience, and several years ago they recorded Chants Mystiques, a sampler of mostly Ladino and other western European Jewish chants, with Lazar's New York-based Chorale Mystique. Its success prompted an encore CD of chants associated with Ashkenazi Jews. These CDs only hint at the great wealth of chants derived from ancient Middle Eastern music and tailored to the stylistic idiosyncrasies and performing practices of the lands where Jews settled. The basic modes of the chant--the cantillation modes codified in ninth-century Galilee and their less rigid offshoots--have remained more or less the same over the centuries, though many works are distinctive. Perhaps no body of chants is more vividly devout than that of the Sephardic tradition, which blends the syllabic melodies of the Middle East with Western tonality and thrived on the Iberian Peninsula between the 7th and 15th centuries; it's represented on the program for the first of Chorale Mystique's back-to-back recitals at Ravinia. Jewish chants gave rise to Gregorian chants and therefore influenced Western music, so it's fitting that they're part of Ravinia's weeklong Musica Viva series, which opens with chants sung by Tibetan nuns and includes those of Gregorian monks. Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.

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