Monday, April 28, 2008

Be Still, Ye Lovely Strings...mostly cantatas

The Barrocade Orchestra is a new ensemble performing several genres of Baroque music, including sacred music, opera, art- and folk music as well as music written for theatre. Performance is on period instruments. All ensemble members are Early Music specialists who have studied and performed in Europe and are now based in Israel. The orchestra has no “resident conductor” and decisions and management are shared equally among the players. St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, filled to capacity, was the venue for “Be Still, ye Lovely Strings”.

The concert opened with J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) cantata “Was willst du dich betrueben” (“Why are you distressed?”) BWV 107 composed in Leipzig in 1724. The text is based on a hymn by Johann Hermann (1585-1647), a Lutheran pastor considered to be the most important chorale text writer of his time. The four guest singers - soprano Ye’ela Avital, countertenor David Feldman, tenor Robert Sellier and bass Yair Goren - performed as both soloists and choir throughout the evening. Scoring included flutes, oboes, theorbo (a large member of the lute family), organ and harpsichord, with the orchestra’s low-pitched instruments, including viols, creating a firm and colorful harmonic bass. Organist Aviad Stier conducted throughout the evening. Visiting German tenor Sellier’s demonic aria offered opportunities for word painting and he took up each of them with relish.
“Although soon from hell’s cavern
The devil should himself desire to rise against thee
And rage before thy face…”
The audience delighted in Avital’s creamy voice and expressive performance in an aria accompanied by keyboard, low strings and two oboes, her voice in conversation with the oboes.

Johann Rosenmueller (1619-1684) began his career as an organist in Leipzig, Germany. From 1658, he was employed at St Mark’s in Venice, returning to Germany in his last years. He was, therefore, important for transmitting the Italian Baroque style to the north, his own compositional style reflecting the influence of Corelli and Legrenzi. Rosenmueller’s Sonata settima from Sonata a 2, 3, 4 e 5 Stromenti da Arco & Altri was scored for strings, theorbo and keyboard. In typical Italian style, the work changed mood and rhythm frequently, was imitative and expressive. The Barrocade Ensemble’s signiature sound is bright and large, gregariously reaching out to its audience.

“Es steh Gott auf” is a setting of Psalm 68 from Heinrich Schuetz’s (1585-1672) second collection of Symphoniae Sacrae (1647). Born in Germany, Schuetz is considered to be one of the most important 17th century composers. He studied with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice and his best known works are in the field of sacred music. The Thirty Years War had devastated musical infrastructure in Germany, making it no longer possible to perform large works in the Venetian style which had marked Schuetz’ earlier period; the Symphoniae Sacrae is a collection of 27 German language cantatas and “Es steh Gott auf” (“May God arise”) has a number of different, short movements. Avital and Sellier gave us a fine reading of the work, interacting well with eachother. The final section, a chaconne, is musically and vocally demanding; the chaconne itself (an early dance over a repeated ground bass) was very effective, with the group making good use of plucked instruments together with strings.

The program ended with J.S.Bach’s secular cantata “Lass, Fuerstin, lass noch einen Strahl” (“Let, Princess, let still one more glance”) BWV 198, which was written as a funeral ode for Christiane Eberhardine, wife of August II the Strong and performed on an autumnal afternoon in October 1727. The libretto was written by Johann Christoph Gottshed, a professor of philosophy and poetry. Written in 11 movements, the first seven preceded the funeral oration. Set in the Italian style, with recitatives and arias for four soloists and four-part choir, two flutes, two oboes d’amore (a double-reeded woodwind instrument), two viols, two lutes and basso continuo, it was conducted by Bach himself from the harpsichord. The work is contemplative, full of sorrowful arias and dignified choruses as well as interesting effects (among them, funeral bells) and much word-painting. Countertenor David Feldman sings:
“The tolling of the trembling bells
Shall our lamenting souls’ great terror
Through their rebounding bronze awaken…”
Feldman has superb dramatic presence, his voice is stable and rich in colors and his ornamenting shows good taste.
In the tenor aria opening the second part of the cantata, there is a beautiful line on flutes supported by oboe d’amore; this was a breathtaking moment of expressive and well-shaped playing. Following the bass aria, depicting the various rivers flowing through Saxony, handled competently by Yair Goren, the work ends with a wistful chorus.

For an encore, we were treated to Franco-Flemish composer Heinrich Isaac’s (c.1450-1517) German language song “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (“Innsbruck, I Must Leave You”). The song expresses his sorrow at having to leave his post at court. The melody was either composed by Isaac or copied from earlier texts. The ensemble presented each stanza in different scorings: soprano with plucked instruments and low strings, only instruments, all singers and orchestra, all singers a cappella (unaccompanied). This was a poignant ending to an outstanding and exciting evening.

Kudos to Aviad Stier for excellent program notes.

“Be Still, Ye Lovely Strings”
Ye’ela Avital-soprano
David Feldman-countertenor
Robert Sellier-tenor
Yair Goren-baritone
St Andrew Scots Memorial Church
January 17, 2008

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