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

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