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


No comments: