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Review of the concert in Mülheim, Germany, on February 27, 2004


On February 27th, Esther Ofarim gave her first concert of 2004 in the industrial town of Mülheim an der Ruhr in North-Western Germany. There was heavy snowfall that evening and it was difficult to get to the concert hall on time (some concertgoers actually never made it!), but inside the hall, the auditorium was filled with people who were either adoring fans or hadn’t heard her live in a long time. When Esther stepped on stage, she was greeted by warm applause. Thanking the audience, she couldn’t help commenting on the weather conditions outside: “We haven’t had that much snow in ages, have we?”, she said, hinting to the audience that she, too, was happy to be inside.

 It was interesting to notice the change in Esther’s repertoire from the year before: There are now more songs in English, 2 French songs have been added (a most welcome move), but luckily, her Hebrew songs still make up about 30% of her concert repertoire. My review will therefore focus on songs that I haven’t heard Esther perform live before.

 She was in excellent voice throughout, overcoming some minor problems with the audio system. Although nervous at the beginning, she soon felt comfortable being on stage and it showed in her performance. What struck me, was the realization of how good her upper register still is, quite unusual for someone who has been singing for more than 40 years! Her tones and phrasing are impeccable and - unlike other singers at her age - she never sounds forced in her high notes.

 One of the songs recently added to her program was the 16th century ballad “Pavane”, a piece of Renaissance music which was performed with piano instead of the guitar accompaniment heard on her 1972 recording. Her dreamy rendition was in every way the equal of that earlier recording.

 She did her medley of lullabies, beginning with the Hebrew “Shir eres” which segued into “Dodo, l’enfant do”, her second French song of the evening. Esther has a way with children’s songs, and especially lullabies, that is unparalleled. 

 The last song before the “break” was Randy Newman’s “In Germany before the war”. Esther’s understated delivery of the lyrics very effectively pointed up the sadness of the song, only reinforced by Michael Paweletz’ wailing violin accompaniment. A very thoughtful interpretation, indeed! After that it was time for her musicians to shine in solo performances (Yoni Rechter on piano, Michail Paweletz on violin and Alfred Sommer on bass). First up in the intermission section was an instrumental composition by Yoni Rechter performed by all 3 musicians, then  a solo vocal/piano rendition by Yoni (see song list below).

 When Esther returned, she looked even more beautiful in her black, green-greyish deux-pièces and her sparkling earrings. She opened the second half of the program with “Over the rainbow” from the “Wizard of Oz”, a song everyone from Judy Garland to Ella Fitzgerald has sung. However, in Esther’s interpretation the song became more of a folk song rather than the Broadway-type ballad we usually think of when we hear the song.  A great testament to Esther’s unique ability to take a well-known song and make it her own!

 She next did a gentle, jazzy version of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, which sounds better and better with each performance. The subtle nuances she now brings to a song such as this one are miles removed from her “belted” recorded version of the 60’s.

 The two big surprises for me were Esther’s interpretations of “A taste of honey” and “Morning of my life”. The former song is another selection from the “Is it really me!” album, but it was sung so beautifully that I was completely overwhelmed. The latter song “Morning of my life” was an unlikely choice for Esther, since it is usually identified with her duo period, but the mature version we heard (with Yoni singing the male part of the duet) now stands alongside her classic 60’s version of the song. Quite amazing!

 After a few more encores and a number of standing ovations, Esther thanked the audience for the last time and told us to “get home safely and, please, drive carefully!”

 Outside the concert hall it was still snowing, but with Esther’s beautiful music still ringing in our ears, we walked through the snow feeling as if we had just received a belated Christmas present.

Song list:

1. Every night
2. Dirty old town
4. Layla layla
Besade Patuach 
6. September Song
7. She's leaving home
8. Shir eres / Do Do
9. In Germany before the war

 1. Midnight Dream (instrumental - Yoni Rechter, Michail Paweletz, Alfred Sommer)
2. Love song (Yoni Rechter: voice & piano)

10. Over the rainbow
11. Speak Low
12. Ten li yad
13. Moon of Alabama
14. Stu Adarim (Me emek)
15. Taste of honey
16. Bird on a wire
17. Mad about the boy


1. Morning of my life
2. Shir aviv / Gruss
3. Guten Abend / Layla Tov / Lullaby and goodnight


Ulrich Menzel
, March 7, 2004

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