Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tour of Baroque Europe, Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra is currently celebrating twenty years of musical performance. The orchestra was founded by conductor, researcher, teacher and harpsichordist Dr David Shemer, who has been its musical director since its establishment. Shemer places emphasis on authentic performance and on the use of period instruments. The first concert of the JBO’s 2008-2009 concert season was a “Tour of Baroque Europe” and was led by British violinist, Margaret Faultless. A leader of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and other ensembles, Faultless teaches and performs widely, being dedicated to historical performance of Baroque music.

Italian virtuoso violinist, teacher and composer, Arcangello Corelli (1653-1713), certainly took the “tour of Baroque Europe”, was quick in making a reputation for himself in Europe, had his first success in Paris at age 19, possibly traveled to Spain, went into the service of the electoral Prince of Bavaria in 1681, was in Rome in 1685, was in Modena from 1689 to 1690, later returning to Rome. His 12 Concerti Grossi, opus 6, some of the finest examples of the Baroque-style concerto grosso, were heard in Rome as early as 1682, but were only published in 1714. In them, he established a fixed concertino string trio of two violins and ‘cello. Corelli’s Concerto Grosso opus 6 no.4 opened the evening’s program. A sonata da chiesa, it begins with a short adagio movement. The audience enjoyed Faultless’ refreshing energetic approach to string playing. In the Adagio, we were lured into the magic of changing harmonies. The concertino section consisted of Faultless and Noam Schuss (violins) and Katharine Abrahams (‘cello).

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764), a child prodigy on the violin, was sent to Rome to study under Corelli. He traveled and performed widely, receiving rapturous acclaim for his playing. Not wishing to spend his life as a court musician, he settled in Amsterdam, absenting himself from the local concert scene and refusing to accept students; he worked there as an Italian music master, unfettered by court or church and where he was offered ample opportunities to publish his works. His Violin Concerto “Il Pianto d’Arianna” Opus 7, published 1741, is, in fact, an instrumental cantata, in which the role of Arianna is “sung” by solo violin and the orchestra takes on the function of the chorus of a Greek tragedy. Referred to it by Faultless in her introduction as a “tone poem”, this work, of the “introduttione teatrale” (theatrical introductions) genre, is proof of the compositional freedom Locatelli enjoyed. It includes recitative and arioso-like textures, taking the listener through tempo- and mood changes, reflecting Ariadne’s shifts in emotion. Faultless plays out the drama, its hope and despair; she has stepped into Ariadne’s shoes, leaving the audience moved and convinced that there was no need for any verbal text.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) received training as a priest but also in violin and harpsichord. His first official post was as the “maestro di violino” at the Pio Ospidale della Pieta, a girls’ orphanage in Venice providing intensive musical training to girls with aptitude. Known as “il preto rosso” (the red-headed priest) he was vain and bad-tempered but his temperament, extroverted personality and energy were the forces behind the distinctive style of his oeuvre. “L’Estro Armonico” (Harmonic Inspiration or Harmonic Whim) was issued as a set of 12 concertos in 1711 and made Vivaldi’s reputation in Europe. Both embellishment of solo parts and realization of the continuo are challenging aspects of these works. On this subject, German flautist, flute-maker and composer J.J.Quantz wrote “One ought to avoid varying the lyrical ideas of which one does not easily tire, and, likewise, the brilliant passages which have a sufficiently pleasing melody themselves”. Of the set, it was the 11th concerto that generated the most comment and imitation. Joining Faultless in the Concerto for 2 violins from L’Estro Armonico, opus 3 no.11, was Noam Schuss, the JBO’s concertmaster. Schuss, a Baroque specialist and soloist teaches, conducts, plays in the Tel Aviv Soloists’ Orchestra and is first violinist in the Galathea String Quartet. Baroque ‘cellist and recorder-player Katharine Abrahams has performed in Israel and Europe in performances ranging from solo recitals to theatre productions, chamber music to orchestral concerts and with the “Mediva” Early Music Ensemble. The Vivaldi concerto opened with intensive interaction between both solo violinists. In the masterfully written fugue, soloists and orchestra brought out the profile of shapes and textures, articulately guiding the listener through the fugual maze.

The next two works in the program were inspired by Shakespeare plays. Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) Suite from the Fairy Queen, composed in 1692, one of his last works, is a Restoration masque, or semi-opera, loosely based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and was probably composed for William and Mary’s 15th wedding anniversary. Purcell provided incidental music for more than 40 plays. The suite begins with a Prelude-Hornpipe and an Air-Rondeau, which would have been played as people in the audience were taking their seats. The other pieces include some of the many dances from the masque. Opening with a forthright, accented and nuanced reading of the Prelude, the Hornpipe was colored with contrasted gestures. Following the humble Air, we heard Katharine Abrahams now on recorder in the melodic Rondeau, swayed gently in the inegalstyle of Baroque playing. The Jig was joyful, with percussion here giving it energy and abandon. In the Chaconne: Dance for Chinese Man or Woman we enjoyed the variety of color offered by changing instrumentation from section to section. Altogether, Faultless constantly reminds us that we have come to be entertained, and entertained we were!

Matthew Locke (1621-1677) flourished when Charles II returned from exile to the English throne in 1660, scoring the processional march for his coronation in 1661. It seems Locke was in exile with the royalists, possibly in the Netherlands, returning to England in 1651, by which time he was already a composer of repute, being one of the first English composers to write music for the stage. In 1661, he was appointed composer to the king’s private band at forty pounds a year. He and Henry Purcell were friends; Purcell learned much from him, eventually succeeding him as Composer in Ordinary to the king. The JBO performed Locke’s Suite from the incidental music to “The Tempest” to the text by Thomas Shadwell (c.1642-1692), an English playwright whose drama “The Tempest” also known as “The Enchanted Island” was published and first performed in 1674. Introduced by Faultless, who talked about the play’s amazing sets and effects, we heard pieces from the incidental music. The Saraband was highly melodic, embellished by hemiolas and ornaments. The remarkable final Curtain Tune, with its extended crescendo and accelerando, followed by a long diminuendo and rallentando, was drama itself.

Italian violinist virtuoso and composer Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) studied with Corelli and A.Scarlatti and made his living teaching- and writing music and also collecting art. He arrived in England in 1716, becoming hugely popular, his greatest commercial success being his concerto grosso arrangements of Corelli’s 12 violin sonatas, which appeared in 1726. Geminiani’s imaginative arrangement for string orchestra of the famous La Folia Variations of his Concerto Grosso no 2 is surely a tour-de-force, going far beyond being just an arrangement. With Faultless, Schuss and Abrahams constituting the concertino section, the audience was swept off its feet by the constantly changing scene of instrumentation, boldness of sound and strictly held tempi set off by superb solos, rich, smooth, transparent string-playing and a gamut of emotions. With Geminiani’s La Folia Variations after Corelli’s Violin Sonata opus 5 no. 12, the program had come the full circle.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2008-2009 got off to a brilliant start. Margaret Faultless’ inspirational leading and interpretation made for an evening of exciting music, the program itself being full of interest. There was magic in the air. The JBO’s printed program has undergone a face-lift, looks attractive and now appears in both Hebrew and English but is somewhat less detailed than the highly informative programs written by Shemer in previous years.

“Tour of Baroque Europe”
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in cooperation with the Jerusalem Music Centre and the Early Music Workshop
David Shemer-musical director
Margaret Faultless-conductor and violin
Noam Schuss-violin
Katharine Abrahams-‘cello
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship
The Jerusalem YMCA
November 16, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anna Magdalena Bach, At Home With Bach

The Barrocade Ensemble opened its second season with a concert of music by J.S.Bach (1685-1750) as well as composers whose works were copied into the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebooks, calling it “Anna Magdalena Bach. At Home with Bach”. The concert was dedicated to the memory of American-born oboist Matthew Peaceman (1956-2008), known for his interest in early- and modern oboe music and, particularly, in Jewish music

The Brandenburg Concertos are a highlight of one of the happiest and most productive periods of J.S.Bach’s life. As Kapellmeister in Coethen, he was composing music at the court of Prince Leoplold, a great music lover. Based on the Italian concerto grosso style, the concertos were compiled from instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements Bach had already written. In 1721, Bach presented the Margrave of Brandenburg with a bound manuscript of the six concertos. The Margrave never thanked or paid the composer. When Bach played chamber music, he usually played the viola; but in the 5th Brandenburg Concerto, he scores it for harpsichord, and what a brilliant role it is, too! It has been referred to as some as the first ever solo keyboard concerto and it is supposed that Bach himself was at the harpsichord. With a somewhat split personality, the harpsichord joins both the concertino and ripieno groups. Shlomit Sivan (violin), Boaz Berney (flute) and Yizhar Karshon (harpsichord) provided the concertino, entertaining the audience royally with well sculpted phrasing, contrasted interludes and energy. At times, Berney’s elegant playing did not come through clearly enough in the YMCA hall, a problem of playing Baroque flute in a large hall. The long harpsichord cadenza of the first movement was handled brilliantly by Karshon. The intimate second movement, Affetuoso, scored for just violin, flute and harpsichord, was delicate and shaped, with the final Allegro lively but also delicate, once more offering the harpsichord much to say.

Of the few secular cantatas Bach composed, “Non sa che sia dolore” (He Knows Not What it is to Suffer) is the only one set to an Italian text. The text tells of the departure of a young man going to sea on his military service. Bach composed the cantata after 1729, but it is not known who wrote the words; the poet, however, does draw on passages written by G.B.Guarini and Pietro Metastasio. We do know that the court of Ansbach was known for its predilection for Italian musical performance and that it employed a number of Italian musicians. In fact, Bach’s cantata for solo soprano closely follows the model of those of A.Scarlatti in its adherence to alternating recitative and aria. It strongly features obbligato flute, handled admirably by Kimberly Reine, giving ample opportunity for both flautist and singer to shine. The cantata opens with a lively sinfonia for flute and strings in the form of a concerto. From her first recitative, Ye’ela Avital communicates with her audience. In the first aria, “Parti pur e con dolore”(Depart then and with sorrow), the warmth and color of Avital’s voice are set off by and converse with the flute and with dynamic strands of instrumental textures. In the last aria, with the audience enjoying Barrocade’s fine, multicolored ensemble sound, there is a sense of well-being; Avital embellishes melismatic passages with ease.
‘Do away with anxiety and dread,
Like the steersman, when the wind is calmed,
Who no more fears or turns pale,
But, content on his prow
Goes singing in the face of the sea.’

In 1723, Bach moved to Leipzig, where he worked at St Thomas’ School and was responsible for music in the town’s four churches. His “Inventions and Sinfonias” were written for educational purposes. They demonstrate contrapuntal techniques and musical styles and are a collection of gems. The Inventions are keyboard pieces written in two voices, whereas the Sinfonias, six of which we heard in this concert, are in three voices. The six elegant miniatures were nicely contrasted in key, instrumentation and character, forming a pleasing group.

The second half of the evening presented pieces from the Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach. For some tome now, viol- and violone player, Amit Tiefenbrunn has had the idea in his mind of taking pieces from these collections and performing them with Barrocade. Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, was, herself, a musician, working as a court singer in Coethen, she was a keyboard player and a professional copyist. There are two Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach: that of 1722 consists only of works written by J.S.Bach and that of 1725 – keyboard works, chorale settings and popular arias, includes pieces by various composers. In the chorale “Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten” (If thou but suffer God to guide thee) we heard the melody played on the viola. “Gib dich zufrieden and sei stille” (Be Content and Be Silent) was sung by Avital with instrumental interludes.

Very different from hearing it played on harpsichord was Reine’s performance on Baroque flute of Aria BWV 988 (Theme of the Goldberg Variations) accompanied by theorbo and viol. She punctuated and embellished it, making it dance, sketching it in dainty transparency. The Polonaise in G major, usually attributed to German singer and composer Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), boasted pleasing contrasts of instrumentation.

Avital presented an endearing performance of the aria “Schlummert ein” from J.S.Bach’s cantata “Ich habe genug” BWV 82 (It is Enough), composed in 1727. The aria is perfectly suited to this artist, and the performance was one of compassion together with tranquility, of shaping and sensitive timing, of allowing the text time to unfold, of fine blending of vocal- and instrumental textures.
‘Slumber, my weary eyes,
Fall softly and close in contentment.
O world, I will linger here no more.
For indeed, I find nothing in you
Pleasing to my soul.
Here I am resigned to misery,
But there, there I shall feel
Sweet peace and quiet rest.’

The atmosphere changed with Avital’s performance of the lyrical Aria di Giovannini, BWV 518 “Willst du dein Herz mir schenken” (Wouldst thou thine heart now give me), (poet unknown), telling of the complexities of secret love. With verses alternating between singer and instruments, Avital gives the aria and the advice it offers a coquettish, dance-like and entertaining reading.

The concert ended on a contemplative note with “Bist du bei mir” BWV 508 (Be Thou with me), poet unknown, music by Gottfried Heinrich Stoelzel. Communicating with Barrocade’s secure instrumental approach, Ye’ela Avital wove in the melodic line, letting it breathe, ornamenting it tastefully.

The Barrocade Ensemble’s first concert of the 2008-2009 Season was interestingly programmed. Kimberly Reine’s program notes were informative and set the tone for a musical evening with the Bach family. The audience enjoyed the variety and delicacy of carefully selected pieces and sensitive performance as well as being guests in the Bach home.

“Anna Magdalena Bach. At Home with Bach.”
Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective
Ye’ela Avital-soprano
Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord
Shlomit Sivan-violin
Boaz Berney, Kimberly Reine-flutes
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship,
Jerusalem YMCA,
November 5, 2008


Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Il Pastor Fido", Abu Gosh Festival October 2008

Entering the precincts of the Crusader Church in the last moments of daylight on Monday October 20th, one was invited to forget the pressures and reality of the world outside and to enjoy the peace and tranquility of this verdant courtyard with its 12th century church. The occasion was a concert performed by the “Il Pastor Fido” Ensemble performing Renaissance- and Baroque works as part of the 34th Abu Gosh Vocal Festival (October 18th to 21st, 2008). The group’s name, “Il Pastor Fido” (The Faithful Shepherd) stems from a tragicomedy of the same name, written by the Italian poet Battista Guarini (1532-1612) at a time he was serving as court poet to Duke Alfonso D’Este II in Ferrara. This play had become very popular in 16th century Italy and was the inspiration for many great musical works, like the madrigals of Luca Marenzio, Giaches de Wert, Claudio Monteverdi and others.

Harpsichordist and organist Marina Minkin, born in the Ukraine, teaches, performs and records in Israel and elsewhere. Her doctoral dissertation is a study of Italian composer Anna Bon’s life and work. In the concert, Minkin was playing on a replica of a 1665 Ridolfi harpsichord, built by Thomas Wolf (USA) in 1970.

Born in Rechovot, soprano Michal Okon has degrees in vocal performance and musicology. A versatile musician, Okon’s repertoire ranges from early to contemporary music, from opera to solo performance with orchestras, to performance with Baroque groups to vocal ensembles. Okon records for radio and television.

Alexander Fine, in Israel since 1989, from the FSU, plays bassoon in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra but is also a Baroque musician, playing Baroque bassoons and Baroque oboe. Fine was playing a replica of a 1722-3 Eihentopf bassoon which is in the Nurenberg Museum collection. It was built by Peter de Konning in 1999.

Anna Ioffe came to Israel in 1996 from the FSU and has studied violin, Baroque violin and viola d’amore. She performs and records in ensembles that perform early music with modern and has appeared as soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Ioffe is also a singer.

Growing up in Rechovot, Uri Dror has studied recorder in Israel as well as with many fine European players. A soloist and active chamber musician, Uri teaches, edits and publishes music. In this concert, Dror was playing an F alto recorder after Thomas Stanesby built by Peter van de Poel (Holland), a transitional G alto made by Stephen Bleziger (Germany) and a soprano recorder after Sylvestro Ganassi built by Yoav Ran (Israel.)

The concert opened with Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso no.2 opus 6. Corelli occupied a leading position in the musical life of Rome for some thirty years, performing as a violinist and directing performances. A fine performer on the newly-popular violin, he is considered a founder of modern violin technique; and it was he who proved the potentialities of the concerto grosso form. It was on his Opus 6, his last opus, that Corelli spent many years writing and rewriting the 12 concerti grossi. Scored for violin, recorder and continuo of harpsichord and bassoon, the Concerto Grosso no.2 consists of small sections, much conversation between violin and recorder; mood- and character changes throughout are typical of the Italian temperament in music. In this delightful chamber work, we were treated to well-crafted phrase endings, tasteful ornamenting, and a combination of crystal clear strands together with a fine ensemble sound.

Biagio Marini (1594-1663), an Italian virtuoso violinist and composer, spent his professional life traveling all over Europe, and is best known for his instrumental music and his contribution to string idiom. His “Scherzi e Canzonette”, opus 5, were composed in Parma in 1622 and incorporate explicit instrumental ideas. Written for one or two voices with instrumental ritornelli, we heard three of the songs performed by soprano Michal Okon, with recorder, violin and harpsichord. Performance was clean, measured and articulate, with Okon’s creamy voice and warmth delighting the audience. Following “Invita a l’allegressa”(Invitation to Joy), with voice conversing with the violin, the second song, “Desio di sguardi” (Desire for Glances) gives Dror, playing a Renaissance recorder, solos, adding interest and embellishment. The third song, “Donna che loda il canto di bellisimo giovanetto” (A Woman who Praises the Song of a Youth), with recorder and violin conversing, was articulate, measured and charming.

Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752) was a German-born composer, viola- and harpsichord player, who spent most of his working life in England, where he became known as John Christopher Pepusch. “Corydon”, Cantata V from his “Six English Cantatas” of 1710, with text by the poet John Hughes (1677-1720), is one of many secular English cantatas on the subject of lonely shepherds. It was performed here by Okon, with Dror, Minkin and Fine. Following the opening recitative, we heard the da capo aria “Gay charmer, to befriend thee…” with its enticing recorder obbligato. The short cantata ends with “Who, from Love his Heart securing…”performed whimsically, with ornaments to charm and hemiolas to confuse the senses, ending the work in dance-like grace.

Elizabethan composer Thomas Morley (1557/8-1602) referred to his canzonets as a “lighter form of madrigal”. His “The First Books of Canzonetts to two voyces” (1597) contains songs for two voices plus some instrumental fantasias. Okon and Dror chose to perform two, the first being “Sweet nymph, come to thy lover”, with Dror “singing” the second voice on recorder. The artists, nevertheless, brought out the interactive aspects, engaging in Morley’s rhythmical, contrapuntal hide-and seek. The second canzonet, “Miraculous Love’s Wounding”, with its bitter-sweet duality, sets a mournful tone, with Okon and Dror presenting the individuality of two melodic lines and a mix ofmodes, in accordance with the text:
“Miraculous love’s wounding!
Even those darts, my sweet Phyllis,
So fiercely shot against my heart rebounding,
Are turned to roses, violets and lilies,
With odour sweet abounding.”

As the central figure in the French school of bass viol composers, teachers and performers, Marain Marais’ (1656-1728) works were widely performed during his lifetime, also outside of France. We heard the second piece of his “Pieces en trio pour les flutes, violins et dessus de viole”, published in 1692. This collection appears to be the first of its kind in Europe. The ensemble presented it with true French court elegance, with flowing, expressive melodic development and typical French-style inegal rhythms. In the last movement, a Passacaille, the players added variety and delicate touches to the variations along side the strict ostinato basis of the piece.

French composer, teacher and theorist, Michel Pignolet de Monteclair (1667-1737) played the basse de violon and double bass in the Paris Opera orchestras. His oeuvre includes twenty French- and four Italian cantatas. “La Bergere” (The Shepherdess) is from his third book of cantatas (1728). Okon’s convincing performance invites the listener to join her in the pastoral atmosphere of the piece; we follow her from narrative to dances, through the tense third movement to the dotted, slow final piece (complete with bird calls) suggestive of idyllic tranquility and sleep.

Giovanni Battista Riccio flourished from 1609 to 1621. His motet “Iubilent Omnes” from the Third Book of Sacred Music of Praise (Venice 1620) is rare in this period of Italian music in that it calls for recorder. The text is taken from Psalms 150 and 99. The joyful closing work of this concert gave instrumentalists interludes between phrases of verbal text.

The crypt of the Crusader Church is an intimate concert venue and has a lively acoustic. “Il Pastor Fido” is an ensemble of five superb performers; they have been working together for a year. Their concert was well programmed, taking the audience from Italy, England, France and back to Italy and from court to pastoral situations. The audience enjoyed the results of fine collaboration between players and stylistically pleasing performance.

“Il Pastor Fido”
Michal Okon-soprano
Uri Dror-recorders
Anna Ioffe-Baroque violin
Marina Minkin-harpsichord
Alexander Fine-Baroque bassoon
The Crypt, Crusader Church,
Abu Gosh, Israel
October 20, 2008