The concert program included interesting pieces from three regions of Romania today – Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia. What has characterized and continues to do so in these regions is the coexistence of several cultures and nationalities (Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Hassidic Jews, Armenians, etc) and religious groups (Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed Church, Muslim and Jewish). Researcher of early Romanian music manuscripts Mária Szabó writes: “This colorful mixture of different styles and influences is reflected in the musical materials that can be found in the original manuscripts…preserved in various archives throughout Romania, which represent a valuable contribution to the history of East-European music”.
The concert opened with three pieces from Codex Caioni (Transylvania, 17th century), the first a harpsichord piece, then two sacred vocal works. Johannes Caioni was a Franciscan monk, musician, folklorist, humanist and organ builder, whose collection includes works of composers, folk songs, courtly dances, church music and works performed by high society and lower.
We heard some works of German composers in Romania, firstly two songs by organist Gabriel Reilich (1643-1677) from Hermannstadt (today Sibiu, Romania); then “Ach, süsses Wort” (Oh, sweet word) by Johann Sartorius (1712-1787). Also from Hermannstadt, Sartorius, an organist in a Lutheran church, composed cantatas, writing in a style between Baroque and Classical. Türk’s tasteful performance of the galant-style harpsichord Arioso & Sonata by Martin Schneider (1748-1812) from the Choral Book 1779 from Braşov (formerly Kronstadt) was a finely played example of house music, of keyboard fare accessible to the listener but demanding of good technique and stylistic accuracy.
Worlds away, yet from the same vicinity, we heard some anonymous traditional Armenian songs from Gherla (formerly Armenopolis) a cathedral city close to Cluj, founded by Armenians. Here, Ensemble Flauto Dolce transported the audience to the world of oriental music and culture and mystery, with arrangements now not anchored in western harmony, but with melodies of octave doubling and with the use of percussion instruments. In one song, soprano Mihaela Maxim, in warm, honeyed sounds, was joined in song Majó in an appealing song arrangement, whereas, in another, she adopted a folk-like manner of chest voice singing – earthy, rustic and real. Altogether, the folk material, however artistically set, never lost its authentic feel; it was embellished by some charming effects - finger-snapping, a vase used as a percussion instrument and typical bourdon accompaniments, the augmented second often present in its folk scales.
The song repertoire of the Hassidic Jewish community from the Maramuresh region was beautifully represented, sung in Yiddish and presented with the characteristic mix of joy, humor and underlying melancholy. In the first song, a rain drum, producing an inebriating rain effect, accompanied a prayer for rain. Mihaela Maxim captured the Hassidic inflection as she convinced and entertained, with the instrumentalists evoking something of the carefree playing of Hassidic wedding musicians.
And then there was an item to make all recorder players sit up and rub their eyes – a G.Ph.Telemann recorder sonata for two alto instruments, discovered in a 1757 manuscript at Sfântu Gheorghe (formerly Sepsiszenthgyörgy), probably originating at the Dresden court. Had we not played all the Telemann sonatas, familiar with every note of them? Apparently not! Performed sympathetically and with much dialogue by Majó and Szabó, the three-movement B flat major sonata made its Israeli debut, the lower voice (Szabó) mostly supplying harmonic support to the upper, more melodic voice.
The concert ended with two anonymous Romanian songs and some old Romanian dances from Moldavia and Wallachia. Maxim’s theatrical flair and facial expressions lent much humor to the songs as the instrumentalists added their contribution to the fun, ending the program with all care thrown to the winds in a wildly hopping Romanian dance.
This was an evening bristling with interest, of variety and very fine and carefully stylized playing. Zoltan Majo's arrangements were tasteful, their use of tenor and bass recorders providing an active, mellow but non-obtrusive setting for many of the songs. Mihaela Maxim took on each style and mood with informed versatility, her fine, richly colored voice communicative and pleasing. Erich Türk’s explanations throughout the evening added much to the audience’s understanding of the breadth and abundance of Romanian music.