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


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