Some Mostly Fascinating New Sounds From Israel

"New Music From Israel," one of many local celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel, offered works by a dozen 20th century composers as performed by Israeli contralto Mira Zakai and a septet of high-profile Southern California instrumentalists, Tuesday night at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Compact and intense, highly chromatic works by Menachem Weisenberg, Tzvi Avni and Shulamit Ran proved most compelling.

Zakai, a rich-voiced friend of many living composers, obviously, performed splendidly, but she made the mistake early on of programming five settings of the same text by different writers. Individually, each of the songs on "The Good Dream" from "Song of Songs" had admirable but not very different virtues and proved effective, but hearing them consecutively added up to irritating repetition.

In these songs, and in touching items by Ezechiel Braun ("Nigra Sum") and Sarah Levi-Tanai (the engaging "My Sister, My Bride"), Zakai was partnered by violinist Mark Kashper, who matched the singer's impassioned delivery with his own.

Avni's 30-year-old "Collage" for singer, flute, percussion and tape proved a high point through a concentrated, virtuosic performance.

Instrumentally, Weisenberg's richly resonant "Like the Clay in the Potter's Hand," played eloquently by violist Ralph Fielding and pianist Gloria Cheng-Cochran, and Ran's "Mirage," conducted elegantly by Steven Mosko, were presented with clarity and enthusiasm. Moshe Zorman's "The Lost Tango," for a piano quintet including guitar, also fascinated for its minimalist style and compactness of statement.

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