Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Basso Ostinato - Passacaglias anf Chaconnes" recorded on harpsichord by Pieter-Jan Belder

Detail from harpsichord by Titus Crijnen after Blanchet, decorated by Elena Felipe after Huet. Photo: Pieter-Jan Belder
In the pieces recorded on “Basso Ostinato - Passacaglias & Chaconnes”, Dutch artist Pieter-Jan Belder presents a study of ostinato pieces of English and European composers of the 16th to 18th centuries. In his liner notes, Belder draws our attention to the fact that not all the pieces here are chaconnes or passacailles, “but all kinds of pieces that feature a certain obsessive repetition, usually on a harmonic basis” and that “all of these pieces are in fact dances”.

The disc opens with the artist’s vibrant and inspired playing of Giovanni Picchi’s sophisticated “Pass’e Mezzo” from “Intovalatura di Balli d’Arpichordo” (1621), with the occasional dissonant element gracing an ornamental phrase end and buoyant playing of its florid sections. The “Ciaconna” of another Italian, Bernardo Storace, from "Selva di varie compositioni d'intavolatura per cimbalo ed organo" (1664), the Sicilian composer’s only surviving body of work, features in the standard repertoire of today's keyboard players, and for a good reason! Belder’s reading of the virtuoso piece is bracing and stylish. One of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s greatest works is his “Cento Partite sopra Passacagli”. It happens to be both a newly composed piece as well as a pastiche of early compositions. In its lengthy but engaging musical tripartite study of the relationship of the passacaglia and chaconne, the work bristles with harmonic variety, daring and sometimes disturbing enharmonic- and meter changes, as well as changes of mode. Suggesting different moods, Belder’s playing of the hundred-or-so variations highlights the (often sudden) contrasts inherent in Frescobaldi's diverse and bold musical language.

In a very different vein is the popular and dazzling Fandango in D minor R146, attributed to Padre Antonio Soler and based on a 12-note repeating sequence in the left hand. Its challenging text, brimful with hand-crossing, trills and syncopations, is referred to by Belder as “one of the most technically demanding harpsichord pieces I know”. Belder takes on board the dance’s fiery Spanish character, its variety of ideas and its unrelenting, unleashed energy...certainly a puzzling piece coming from the pen of a priest. It also emerges as a strange bedfellow among the other works of a more aristocratic character represented on the disc.

Nowadays, we seem to be more familiar with some wonderful choral music of Thomas Tomkins, but, bearing the influence of his teacher William Byrd, Tomkins, the last of the English virginalists (actually, he was Welsh) has left quite a body of keyboard music. His Ground MB39 is based on a very small fragment, the inventive treatment and bravura demands of which being more interesting than its repetitive melodic content. As to Henry Purcell’s “A New Ground”, Belder gives poignant expression to its bittersweet quality, floating the soprano solo above the three-bar ostinato in touching, cantabile delivery.

Crossing the English Channel to France, Pieter-Jan Belder’s majestic performance of Louis Marchand’s Chaconne in D minor (1702) goes hand-in-glove with the style brisé of 17th century clavecin tradition, the artist’s reading graced with ample noble spreads and a touch of the Italianate style. If Louis Couperin’s unmeasured writing aimed to inspire the player to address the text, to dip into the palette of his imagination, yet in an orderly manner, this is indeed the result here. In Belder’s recording of Couperin’s Prélude and Passacaille he infuses his stately rendition of these true gems with clear direction, fantasy, personal expression, tranquil grace and a touch of reflective melancholy.

In his Passacaglia in G minor, from “Apparatus musico-organisticus” (1690), Georg Muffat, one of the Baroque’s most cosmopolitan composers, mingles French and Italian styles employing the French rondeau technique with variations which are structured around five repetitions of a basic refrain. Displaying its variety and invention, Belder’s masterful, noble and dazzling performance of the work is indeed in keeping with the composer’s own suggestion of performing the Apparatus pieces …”in connection with entertainments given by great princes and lords, for receptions of distinguished guests, and at state banquets, serenades, and academies of musical amateurs and virtuosi.” On this disc, Pieter-Jan Belder adds his name to the many who have made transcriptions for harpsichord and other instruments of J.S.Bach’s Chaconne for violin solo from Partita No.2, BWV 1004. Listening to Belder’s rendition, one becomes acutely aware of the artist’s rich vision of the piece through the prism of the harpsichord, its flexibility and its technical and emotional potential, as he takes his listener through ravishing, opulent, extraverted sections and into sections that are fragile and personal. Using such Baroque measures as 'notes inégales' and the gamut of ornamentation, Belder takes the liberty to enrich some of the many spreads with just a few more zestful notes than possible on the violin. Belder’s is a bracing, fresh, wholehearted presentation and one bristling with interest. I think Bach would really like it.

In his flourishing career as harpsichordist, clavichord player, organist, fortepianist and recorder player, Pieter-Jan Belder has so far made over 140 recordings. The works heard in “Basso Ostinato - Passacaglias & Chaconnes”, for the Brilliant Classics label, are performed on harpsichords by Cornelius Bom after Giusti (2003), Titus Crijnen after Blanchet (2013) and Titus Crijnen after Ruckers (2014).



Sunday, July 8, 2018

An event hosted by Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgren to honour the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble and the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra

H.E. Magnus Hellgren addresses guests (courtesy Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra)

A festive evening was hosted by the H.E. Magnus Hellgren, the Swedish Ambassador in Israel at his Herzliya residence on Monday July 2nd 2018 to honour the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble and the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra. On arriving, guests and artists enjoyed the opportunity of meeting and talking over a glass of wine in the garden prior to a summer meal and the evening’s program. As to the NKO’s strong Swedish connection, renowned conductor, trombonist and composer Christian Lindberg is the orchestra’s musical director, with mandolin artist Shmuel Elbaz, present at the event, serving as the NKO’s principal conductor. The Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble was in Israel to take part in the orchestra’s last concert for the season - “When the Public Decides”.

 

The event’s official proceedings began with greetings of welcome from the Ambassador himself. Deputy Mayor of Netanya Eli Dellal spoke of the importance the city of Netanya addresses to culture and to music, in particular. Maestro Lindberg also spoke. All were unanimous in the role that music plays in our lives - to bring people together. Maestro Westberg expressed his delight at being in Israel with his singers. They then performed a number of pieces, some unaccompanied, other accompanied either by Lindberg, or on the piano or by members of the NKO. The program presented guests with a delightful taste of the gentle melodies and velvety harmonies of Swedish music in arrangements of Swedish folk songs and works by Swedish composers. One interesting item on the program was a piece integrating “Hatikva”, the Israeli national anthem, with a similar melody of a beautiful Swedish folk song. Referred to by Maestro Lindberg as “one of the world’s best choirs”, the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble was founded in 1993 and consists of some twenty voices, bringing together experienced, top-class singers, all of whom hail from Sweden and Finland. Basically an a-cappella ensemble, its signature sound strikes a splendid balance between the singers’ individual vocal timbres and a well-blended choral sound. In addition to many overseas tours, it has recorded over twenty discs. As of 1990, Erik Westberg has mostly worked at the Luleå University of Technology/School of Music in Piteå as professor of musical performance.

 

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra performs over 120 concerts yearly, with each program presented in eight locations the length and breadth of Israel. Throughout the 47 years of its existence, it has toured the USA, China, Mexico, Germany, Italy, France, South Korea, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Croatia, Great Britain, Switzerland, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia and Peru. It also retains a prestigious recording schedule. In addition to its concert activity, the NKO runs an extensive educational program, of which guests at the festive event were given a taste. We heard an ensemble of young Netanya string players in a well-coordinated and informed performance of a Vivaldi movement. The young, competent musicians were using Baroque bows, which had been supplied by Spiccato.

 

Retiring to the garden following the concert, guests were presented with some spontaneous singing of more Swedish songs by ensemble members. Singing is joy! For most of the choir members it was their first trip to Israel.

The Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble (photo:Tone Antonsson)
 


New music is alive and kicking in Israel: the Meitar Ensemble and friends perform their final concert for the 2017-2018 season in Tel Aviv

Photo: Culiner Productions
 
The Meitar Ensemble concluded its 2017-2018 concert season with a festive event at the Israel Conservatory of Music Tel Aviv on June 30th 2018. Founded in 2004 by artistic director Amit Dolberg, the Tel Aviv-based ensemble has commissioned and premiered over 200 works. The Meitar Ensemble also runs a unique educational youth program - the Tedarim Project - offering young musicians engaging in performance, conducting and composing an opportunity to learn, explore and perform new music and on the highest level. Some of the young project musicians took part in this concert alongside more established artists. Also taking part were participants of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance’s Contemporary Music Workshop.

 

The program opened with Menachem Wiesenberg’s “Entrapped Bird” (1998) a setting of three poems by Yair Hurwitz for voice, piano, violin and clarinet (or oboe). The poems, from the poet’s last volume, all deal with his impending death. The entrapped bird is a metaphor of the poet’s soul as imprisoned in his sick body, waiting, in a sense, to be freed. In the composer’s own words: “I have tried to portray this dark and very painful atmosphere in my music, using a chromatic and expressive musical language.” Amit Dolberg (piano), Noam Lelior Gal (violin) and Roy Cohen (clarinet) gave personal expression to the work’s fragile, filigree textures, its reflective, intimate nature and to its many splendid solo sections. Dalia Besprozvany, with her delicate, articulate and understated singing, added subtle meaning to this mood piece.

 

We then heard “Scattergories” for flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, violin, ‘cello and double bass by Omer Barash (b.1995). The ensemble was directed by young conductor Tom Karni. As its title implies, the work opened with a series of small gestures, punctuated by chords, then developing into a shifting, active screen texture, its fabric consisting of individual utterances. With much independent expression on the part of the players, the work moves through various moods and instrumental effects, on to a dialogue carried out in parallel semitones, then to a drone; the scattered chords continue to appear. The work tails off in a low repetitive note on the piano, taking time to fade away. A student at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Omer Barash is pursuing his MMus degree in Composition under Prof. Ari Ben-Shabetai and his BMus in piano under Prof. Eitan Globerson. He was in attendance at the concert.

 

Premiered at the event was Yonatan Ron’s “Klaustrum” for string trio, composed end of 2015-January 2016. It was performed by Marco Fusi-violin, Moshe Aharonov-viola and Yoni Gotlibovich-’cello. The composer explains the agenda of his work as written at a time he was involved in "large-scale gradual transitions" within musical textures. The piece “starts with a cluster of a very strong Middle Eastern identity, from which I continue to develop the very same pitch material until it slowly reaches a point at which it explodes.” A piece composed as an almost uninterrupted continuum, it presents repetitions each embodying some slight variation; there are delicate “insect” textures, intense unison passages, glissando motifs and sections of flageolets interrupted by sudden outbursts, etc. The composer refers to each musical idea as “begging to emancipate itself”, to finally be freed by the end of the work. In finely balanced collaboration, the players gave the work a reading that was dedicated, sensitive and transparent. The composer, who was present at the concert, is presently a student at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague.

 

We then heard “In Carne ed Ossa”, a quintet by Michele Sanna (Italy). This was the work that won the 2018 Matan Givol Competition for Composers. Amit Dolberg spoke of the competition, now in its third year, as a fitting way to remember violinist Matan Givol, who had been a member of the Meitar Ensemble. "In Carne ed Ossa" (In Flesh and Bone) was chosen out of 60 scores that were submitted to the competition from 24 countries. A work of lively, sometimes frenetic gestures, of intensity, of pared-down otherworldly moments, of timbral variety and some effects, its soundscape is characterized by the intermittent, shadowy use of a soft mallet striking the strings of the piano (Simone Walther). The piano also features in several of the work’s lyrical moments. Conducted by Ilan Volkov, the performance, profound and reflective, gave splendid expression to Sanna’s gripping and soul-searching score.

 

Following the intermission, Maestro Ilan Volkov conducted Italian composer Fausto Romitelli’s “Professor Bad Trip, Lessons I,II,III”, a work scored for eight players and electronics. The “Professor Bad Trip” cycle (1998—2000), blending distorted colorations of acoustic- and electric instruments as well as accessories, such as the mirliton and harmonica, was inspired by Henri Michaux’s writings under the influence of psychedelic drugs and by the comic artist Gianluca Lerici a.k.a. Professor Bad Trip and his psychedelic cartoons. The three separate movements recreate a hallucinatory sound world in which post-spectralism blends with psychedelia. The unique style that Romitelli developed is characterized by drones, glissandi and amplification with distortion, the combination of these elements resulting in highly expressive content of both great eloquence and violent sonic utterances of considerable formal complexity. Lesson I, doused with electric guitar, offering a rich timbral mix, is an exciting piece. Percussionist Lior Eldad’s skill and competence shone throughout. The music eventually becomes calm and the instrumentalists gradually exit, leaving only electronic “airport” sounds to bring the piece to an end. Lesson II is at times no less intense than its predecessor (its potency and rhythmic vehemence are endorsed by electric guitar-Nadav Lev and bass guitar-Dennis Sobolev); the piece also offers a virtuosic and poignant ‘cello solo (Yoni Gotlibovich), some breathy effects and eerie moments of spacey high string flageolet sounds, then to die down cushioned in a velvety screen of sound coloured by the knell of a haunting gong. Lesson III, bristling with effects and repetitions, sometimes referring to a kind of “tonal centre”, presents trippy sensations as well as stark, buzzy electronic sounds and strident guitar sounds. Flautist Roy Amotz moves from piccolo to flute to mirliton (a small, nasal-sounding instrument, its sound produced by a vibrating membrane) and back again. “Professor Bad Trip”, with its taste for the deformed and the artificial, for rock and electro-acoustic treatment of sound, certainly takes the listener along for the dare-devil ride, and an invigorating, shocking and spectacular trip it certainly was, too!

 

Drawing a large crowd, the Tel Aviv concert was a celebration of fascinating music and very fine, dedicated and discerning performance on the part of the musicians.

Dalia Besprozvany (Culiner Productions)
 
Roy Amotz  (Culiner Productions)


Moshe Aharonov (Culiner Productiobs)







Friday, June 29, 2018

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra presents the first Israeli performance of Handel's "Aci, Galatea and Polifemo"

Yizhar Karshon,Shaked Bar,Claire Meghnagi (photo: Maxim Reider)

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra (founder and musical director: David Shemer) concluded its 29th concert season with “Beauty and the Beast”, the first Israeli performance of G.F.Handel’s cantata, or serenata a 3, “Aci, Galatea & Polifemo”. Yizhar Karshon conducted from the harpsichord. Soloists were Shaked Bar - Galatea, Claire Meghnagi - Aci and Denis Sedov - Polifemo. This writer attended the performance at the Jerusalem International YMCA on June 27th 2018.

 

Somewhat overshadowed by his English pastoral mini-opera written in London in 1718, the young Handel’s little-known, unstaged dramatic cantata “Aci, Galatea & Polifemo” was composed for a ducal wedding in Naples in 1708. With an Italian libretto, the musically rich “Aci” offers early hints as to Handel’s instinctive affinity for Italian opera, also highlighting the 23-year-old Handel’s fully mature style, Both Handel works are based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, in which a romance between a shepherd, Acis, and a sea nymph, Galatea, is hindered by a monstrous one-eyed giant, Polyphemus. The jealous Polyphemus hurls a boulder at Acis, killing him.  Galatea has her father, the sea god Nereus, transform Acis into a stream, so that he can flow into her embrace forever.

 

Handel’s ravishing, ebullient score calls for three superior singers. In the trouser role of Aci (it is presumed that Handel cast Aci as a high soprano castrato) soprano Claire Meghnagi’s supple voice, her wide, easeful and accessible range and empathy with the role made for a convincing performance. One of the work’s most delightful moments was “Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta” (Here the bird flies from tree to tree), in which violin (Noam Schuss), oboe (Shai Kribus) and Meghnagi imitate and ornament to present birdsong effects:
“Here the bird from tree to tree happily flies,
Sweetly singing to distract the heart that languishes.
But it becomes a cause of sadness for me alone
Who, afflicted and alone oh Lord, cannot find peace.”

 

Mezzo-soprano Shaked Bar portrayed Galatea’s plaintive charms admirably, singing with much feeling, her voice natural, easeful and rich in colours. Before Aci is killed, she and Meghnagi engaged in a tender duet of ample contrasts, with Shaked Bar’s performance culminating in a heartbreaking outpouring of grief and anger on Aci’s death. The role of Polifemo, one of the most challenging of the bass repertoire, requires an almost unbelievably wide range and some enormous leaps to boot, these representing Handel’s way of evoking the monstrous nature of Polifemo. The composer must have had at his disposal a unique voice, even by early 18th-century standards!  Of a suitably towering stature, Denis Sedov, singing several of the most virtuosic sections by heart, was confrontational, powerful and intense in the role. His singing of “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori” (In darkness and horror), with its two-and-a-half octave compass, in which the giant cyclops describes a moth desperately looking for the light of an extinguished lamp, was effective and spine-chilling.

 

Not to be underestimated are the demands placed by the young Handel on the fine instrumental forces that were obviously available to him at the time. In his profound, detailed and inspiring reading of the score, Yizhar Karshon imbued the music with verve, eloquence and variety, making for much articulate and splendid playing on the part of the JBO instrumentalists, both in tutti and in the most delicate of pared-down scoring for the more intimate pieces, and for precise collaboration with the singers. An exciting event to see out the 2017-2018 concert season!




Denis Sedov (photo: Maxim Reider)

 
 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Kemp English has recorded the complete Kozeluch Keyboard Sonatas - a few words on Vol.11

Kemp English (photo: Helen English)
Like several other composers in music history, Bohemian musician Jan Antonín Koželuch (1747-1818) set his sights at studying Law. While at Prague University, he continued music studies with his older cousin (also Jan Antonín Koželuch) and with Mozart’s future friend František Dušek. But, due to  his immediate success in ballet- and pantomime music, Koželuch abandoned his legal studies, moving to Vienna in 1778 (some three years before Mozart) having changed his first name to Leopold to avoid being confused with his cousin. It was there that he produced more than half of his 49 piano sonatas in the 1780s, many received with great enthusiasm. Like Mozart, the pianist, composer and teacher delighted the music-loving Viennese aristocracy. He was so well regarded there that he was offered employment by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Koželuch began publishing his own works and in 1785 officially opened his own publishing house, also developing ties with many other European publishers. Having been a member of the team proofreading Christopher Hogwood’s Bärenreiter edition of the Koželuch keyboard sonatas, New Zealand keyboard specialist Kemp English completed the world premiere recording of the complete cycle of Koželuch solo keyboard sonatas in 2013. On KOŽELUCH Complete Keyboard Sonatas - 11, English plays three very early sonatas from the 1770s and two later works from 1809.

 

Kemp English plays Sonatas Nos. 44, 45 and 46, the earlier works, on an original 1785 harpsichord by Longman and Broderip, built for them by Thomas Culliford. Works bristling with freshness and Rococo charm, some movements more sophisticated than others, here is a fine sample of what able amateur players in Vienna and their guests enjoyed in the fashionable salons. In playing that is vivid, articulate in detail, sincere and tastefully ornamented, English takes his inspiration from the texts themselves and from the possibilities offered by the splendid, vigorous timbres of the instrument for which they were written.

 

Koželuch, however, lived at a time the harpsichord was being superseded by the more expressive fortepiano. He became an enthusiastic supporter of the newer instrument, using the fortepiano to express the clarity, delicacy, the light and shade he wished to be expressed in his music. He therefore would not accept students who did not wish to familiarize themselves with the fortepiano. The two first works on this disc are played on a fortepiano built around 1815 in Vienna by Johann Fritz. The zesty opening movement of Piano Sonata No.42 in F major, Op. 53, No.2 takes the listener into the richness and and variety of the Classical sonata style, with its fast flow of ideas and development of motifs. The hearty second movement (Rondo), with its small reminiscences of the opening movement, is also powered with a good measure of joie-de-vivre. Somewhat more understated, Piano Sonata No.43 in E flat major, Op. 53 No.3 makes for fine piano fare, its second (and final) movement also a Rondo Allegretto. In his highly informative program notes, Kemp English draws the listener’s attention to the bassoon stop engaged in this movement, producing a “charming buzzy effect”.

 

Considering the fact that Leopold Koželuch was a prominent figure on the robust Viennese musical scene populated by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, music history has not treated him favourably. Kemp English’s deep enquiry into the composer’s piano sonatas and his impeccable performance of them are a keen reminder to the listener that Koželuch, a transitional composer both admired and criticized, was nevertheless a major figure in the shaping of taste in keyboard music. Engaging in its buoyant recorded sound, Kemp English in KOŽELUCH Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol.11 (GRAND PIANO GP735) invites the listener to attend a fashionable late 18th century music salon in Vienna to hear music of the time performed in the most authentic manner.

 

Kemp English is one of New Zealand’s leading concert performers. Much in demand as a solo organist, collaborative pianist, and specialist fortepiano exponent, he enjoys performing music of a diverse array of styles and periods. Following a distinguished studentship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, he later completed a Master of Arts degree in music performance at the University of York. He took his doctoral studies at the University of Adelaide. In 2001 Kemp English was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music – an honour recognising former students of the Academy who have achieved distinction in the profession. Four years later, after more than a decade as Executant Lecturer in fortepiano, organ and harpsichord performance at the University of Otago, he made the decision to freelance and concentrate on his performing and recording career. Dr. Kemp English continues to tour Australasia and Europe as both a solo and collaborative performer.

 
 









Saturday, June 23, 2018

Nicholas McGegan conducts the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, choirs and soloists in Handel's "Messiah"

Maestro Nicholas McGegan (photo: Steve Sherman)
Taking place on June 18th in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre, the final concert of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-2019 Vocal Series was a performance of G.F.Handel’s “Messiah”. Guest conductor Nicholas McGegan (UK) directed the performance, in which the Shahar Choir (conductor: Gila Brill), the Adi Choir (conductor: Oded Shomrony) and the Jerusalem Oratorio Capellate Choir (conductor: Naama Nazrathy) joined to form one choral body for the event. Soloists, under the auspices of the Israeli Opera, were Tal Ganor, Alon Harari, Oded Reich and Irish-born tenor Robin Tritschler, making his JSO- and Israeli opera debut.

 

Handel wrote the original version of “Messiah” in three to four weeks. Premiered in Dublin in 1742, with the composer now already established in London, the work drew such a large crowd that audience members were requested to leave their hoop skirts and swords at home for fear of overcrowding at the concert hall. In his libretto, Charles Jennens interspersed texts from both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament, frequently using metaphor — rarely narrative -  to depict the story of the Messiah.  Although the oratorio is primarily contemplative, with no speaking characters and hardly any action, it falls into three parts: Part One deals first with the prophecies concerning Christ’s birth. Part Two, the dramatic pinnacle of the work, tells of Christ’s passion, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, with Part Three consisting entirely of commentary, principally on the resurrection and the theme of Christian redemption.

 

No new face in Jerusalem, Nicholas McGegan has conducted the JSO in several productions of Handel works. From the very opening sounds of the Overture at this performance, one is acutely aware of Maestro McGegan’s eloquent, finely chiselled approach to Baroque music and to Handel’s masterful instrumental score (here achieved, nevertheless, on modern instruments), uniquely reflecting the rhythmic quality and detailed dynamics of the speech patterns. The performance was served by four very fine soloists. A recitalist, oratorio- and opera singer today in great demand worldwide, tenor Robin Tritschler gave a performance that was expressive and splendidly served throughout by his clean, easeful and mellifluous timbre, as in his sensitive and compassionate rendition of “Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow”. Countertenor Alon Harari’s ample, stable voice, his ornamenting, sense of contrast and drama gave credence to the texts, obvious, for example, in his strategically-timed, dolorous singing of “He was despised”. Baritone Oded Reich created the specific mood of each piece, from the gripping “...I will shake the heavens and the earth” to the eerie “...people that walked in darkness” to the triumphant “The trumpet shall sound”, the latter enhanced by the trumpet obbligato role. Soprano Tal Ganor’s signature sound is bright, delicate, precise and pleasing. In “Rejoice greatly”, she negotiated the rapid melismatic moments with agility, assuredness and exuberance.

 

But the performance was also a celebration of Handel’s choruses, as the singers here highlighted the work’s emotional agenda and messages, the dramatic potential of each text and the astonishing variety of Handel’s choral writing, whose course constantly shifts between a kind of “speaking” music, which declaims speech patterns in the text, and a more lyrical “singing” music, with key words emerging for all to hear. The singers were highly attentive of McGegan, as they displayed confidence, the three choirs singing as one, their diction articulate (and British!), their performance of contrapuntal sections, however complex, well delineated. Their buoyant singing bristled with dynamic- and textural variety, at times subtly restrained, at others, gregarious and arresting. As to the pivotal Hallelujah chorus, the audience showed its appreciation. When completed by Handel, following much anxiety and distress, the composer reportedly told his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.”

 

Following the first performance of “Messiah” in 1742, one critic referred to it as the “Sublime, the Grand and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, Majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.” In fact, “Messiah” is one of the few pieces in music history to enjoy popular success during its composer's lifetime and never fall out of favour since his death. Most of today’s audiences have heard the oratorio countless times, know it word for word and approach each presentation with just a touch of trepidation: will this be simply “another” performance of ”Messiah”? In the case of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s event, the answer was a definite “no”! Maestro McGegan pooled his forces into creating a production that was wholehearted, fresh, exciting and elegant.



 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A richly imaginative production of Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" at the Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv



Photo: Yossi Zwecker




The Israeli Opera’s recent performances of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” brought together several Israeli artists and ensembles: Ensemble Barrocade, the Israeli Opera Chorus and soloists performed under the musical direction of Ethan Schmeisser. Stage director team Cecile Boussat and Julien Lubek, who directed, and designed the sets and costumes of “Dido and Aeneas” for the Opera de Rouen’s production of “Dido and Aeneas”, brought their creative production to Tel Aviv. This writer attended the performance at the New Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv, on June 3rd 2018. The all-Israeli line-up of vocal soloists (in this specific performance) comprised Anat Czarny-Dido, Oded Reich-Aeneas, Daniela Skorka-Belinda, Guy Mannheim-sorceress/ sailor, Moran Abouloff-Pick-2nd woman, Tali Ketzef & Nitzan Alon-enchantresses and Yaniv d’Or-spirit.

 

From its modest beginnings as a work composed for a girls’ boarding school run by Josias Priest in Chelsea, a work calling for a limited number of soloists, chorus and a few dancers (Josias Priest was the dancing master) “Dido and Aeneas laid the foundations for English opera and is today ranked among the most popular British lyrical works. However, due to the fact that the work’s dating is uncertain and that the original manuscript is lost, many questions regarding the work remain unanswered.  As to its librettist Nahum Tate, a negligible poet, Purcell kept only a part of his text, this taken from Book IV of Virgil’s “Aeneid”. With its astonishing economy of resources, one might refer to the work as a chamber opera, given its extreme brevity of three short acts, but it is the tragic love story of Dido and Aeneas in itself that inspired Purcell to write a work of strong emotions, offering the full range of dramatically intense feelings, those juxtaposing the conflict between duty and passion and resulting in the separation of the two lovers. The Queen of Carthage, abandoned by Aeneas, transcends her suffering by the beauty of her singing, before greeting the death she cannot escape after the hero leaves.

 

A number of features combined to make the Israeli Opera production of “Dido and Aeneas” enchanting. Possibly out of sight down in the orchestra pit but certainly not out of earshot were members of Ensemble Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective, whose delicate, polished playing on period instruments from the very opening sounds of the French-, Lully-style overture (they later engaged in some Baroque-style improvising) imbued the performance with an aura of delicacy, elegance and authenticity.  Placed behind the instrumentalists were singers of the Israeli Opera Chorus. Their crucial contribution to the opera, participating in the denouement of the action, taking on multiple roles - of cupids, courtiers, huntsmen and witches - was carried out with splendid articulacy, timbral beauty and stylistic competence.

 

As to the soloists, here was a production rich in home-grown talent. Mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny gave a sensitive and convincing portrayal of the ill-fated Dido alongside baritone Oded Reich’s compelling, bold and tender handling of the role of Aeneas. Soprano Daniela Skorka was well cast as Dido’s sympathetic handmaid Belinda. A whimsical touch was the portrayal of the sorcerer as a giant octopus seated atop a craggy rock at sea, the part appropriately assigned to tenor Guy Mannheim. Then there were the enchantresses Tali Ketzef and Nitzan Alon, here in the guise of mermaids, descending from the ceiling on flying rigs. Intermittently, the stage was alive with dainty, young, Elizabethan-style female dancers and some wonderful acrobats, the latter at times portraying dark, slimy sea creatures; then in Act III, we see the same artists scampering up and down the ropes of Aeneas’ ship like the best of sailors. And then there was sylph-like acrobat Aya Dayan, suspended on a ring high above the stage, defying gravity and charming the audience with her repertoire of delicate dance movements.  With their background of mime, drama, acrobatics, dance and illusion, Cecile Boussat and Julien Lubek present staging that is imaginative and magical, with its seascapes of a myriad of blues, of waters inhabited by mermaids, the mauve shell serving as a safe refuge for the lovers in better times, as well as several humorous effects. And, finally, following Czarny’s poignant, finely crafted and richly ornamented rendition of Dido’s Lament, the stage is plunged into darkness and candles are extinguished one by one, depicting the Queen of Carthage’s tragic end. All that remains is for the chorus to request the "cupids to scatter roses on her tomb, soft and gentle as her heart”.

 

Kudos to the producers, to Maestro Ethan Schmeisser and to the many, many artists and opera team members whose performance presented a fine balance between drama, fantasy and Henry Purcell’s sublime music.




Photo: Yossi Zwecker

 
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