Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Morosina" - Errico Petrella

On January 19, 2009, I attended a program of “Non Solo Verdi”, in which some scenes from Errico Petrella’s (1813-1877) opera “Morosina” were performed. This concert was part of a research program run by Professor Jehoash Hirshberg (Department of Musicology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) with Sonya Mazar heading the team of research scholars that include Na’ama Ramot, Rimona Cohen-Paul and Alma Stern. The project focuses on operas composed between 1860 and 1870 and “Morosina” is the 11th opera to be presented to the public in this series; indeed, this was its first performance in 160 years.

Italy became a nation October 26, 1860, and Italy’s resurgence as a single, unified nation, the dream of poets and intellectuals, had become reality. Opera played a very prominent part in national life in Italy. Researchers in the Hebrew University project have noted that, between 1860 and 1870 alone, 230 new operas were written and produced, many of them successful.

Born in Palermo, Errico Petrella was a highly successful and popular opera composer of the Neapolitan School, composing opera buffa as well as serious opera. “Jone”, produced at La Scala in 1858, is generally considered his best opera. Verdi is known to have been scornful of Petrella’s compositional and dramatic crudities, liked, nevertheless, by the flamboyant Italian audiences.

The libretto for “Morosina” was written by Domenico Bolognese and the opera was premiered January 5, 1860, with internationally-known Italian soprano Balbina Steffenone singing the role of Morosina. And to the performance of the HU opera project: with a picturesque old map of Venice as the background, the plot begins to unfold; the year is 1555 in Venice. Scenes from the opera are performed in costume, with Professor Hirshberg filling in details of the plot in between scenes. And a real operatic plot it is: one of mistaken identity, family rivalry, intrigues, the love of two women for the same man, Morosina’s noblility of spirit and, of course, the tragic outcome of it all - death.

Most of the singers taking part were from the former Soviet Union. Alba, (daughter of Orseole, head of the “Council of Ten”) was played by mezzo-soprano Julia Plakhina; she was convincing and expressive, communicating well with the audience. The first duet took place between Alba and her friend Amelia (Anja Bachrach). Morosina was played by Tatiana Odinkova; her voice is powerful and dramatic and she is generous in her use of vibrato. Yaniv Sananes’ powerful and beautiful tenor voice delighted the audience; he played the part of Galieno. Orseole was played by Andre Trifonov. Trifonov has a commanding voice and fine stage presence. The music was melodic, gregarious and as dramatic as the plot. Directing from the piano, Sonya Mazar was present in every word and gesture taking place on stage, her piano introductions setting each scene and her compassion, her sense of timing and use of the element of surprise providing a fine basis for the performance.

The program ended with pieces from operas of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Anja Bachrach gave an empathic rendering of Desdemona’s “Ave Maria” from “Otello” (1887). In her intimate performance of it, she made use of delicate contrasts and fine phrasing.

The libretto to Verdi’s “La forza del destino” was written by Francesco Maria Piave; the opera was first performed in 1862. In her prayer “Pace, pace mio Dio” (Peace, o mighty Father, give me peace) in the final act, Leonora prays that she might find peace in death. Tatiana Odinkova’s performance of the aria was emotional and gripping, her timbre a nice mix of chest- and head voice. Collaboration between her and the pianist made for a dramatic and convincing performance.

The noon concert ended with a scene from Verdi’s “Macbeth”. Based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, the libretto also by Piave, the opera was premiered in 1847 in Florence. Julia Plakhina and Andrei Trifonov, as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, spirited the audience into one of the most dramatic, demonic and psychological moments of opera, where both instrumental writing and vocal lines inspire horror in the audience. Plakhina and Trifonov were outstanding in their intense, obsessive and distraught portrayal of hunger for power, their performance making use of body language and facial expressions.

The small concert hall was packed to capacity with people interested to hear “Morosina”, fine operatic singing and to take an hour to revel in the extravagancies and emotions of Romantic opera. Leaving the Humanities Building of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, it was time to return to reality. Jerusalem was bathed in sunlight.

“Non Solo Verdi”
Excerpts from Verdi operas
“Morosina” – Errico Petrella
Morosina-Tatiana Odinkova
Orseole-Andrei Trifinov
Alba-Julia Plakhina
Galieno-Yaniv Sananes
Emilia-Anja Bachrach
Sonya Mazar-piano
Costumes-Francoise Coriat
Humanities Building-The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Countertenor Andreas Scholl master class, soprano Noa Bizansky

German countertenor Andreas Scholl is in Israel conducting master classes from January 25 through January 28, 2009 at the Jerusalem Music Centre; he will also be performing a concert in Tel Aviv. The repertoire sung by the eight young singers taking part in the master classes is largely that of Baroque music.

Soprano Noa Bizansky, a Tel Aviv resident, sang “Ah Belinda!” from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”.

‘Ah! Belinda. I am prest
With Torment not to be Confest,
Peace and I are strangers grown.
I languish till my grief is known,
Yet would not have it guest.’

After Noa had sung through the aria, Scholl began by asking her who “her” Dido was, a Dido not a part of Noa’s own person, but a concept of the character as separate from herself. He talked about the singer having courage to communicate and to be someone else. They then began to work on the way “Ah!” should be expressed or sighed, what kind of grief it represented and Scholl encouraged Noa to experiment with it, saying that experimenting was more important than “getting it right”, that it involved micro-adjustments of mouth and lips and finally deciding which version one liked.

Dido is singing to her servant Belinda, so Noa should be aware of communicating with her, difficult as it is without her physical presence.

Discussion now turned to how to express despair in one’s body language and Scholl suggested Noa sit, showing her that the many poses adopted in sitting can be more expressive than when one is standing; the more we use our bodies the more human we sound. Thinking in the Romantic style, and not in Early Music idiom, could give the emotion more strength, allowing Noa to draw from her own experience as a human being, creating an opportunity of adding a little lifelike roughness to the performance.

Scholl talked much about “breath” as a theatrical form of expression, giving the performance a hypnotic quality, suggesting that singing this aria with a breathy quality could bring out the despair Dido is experiencing. Before repeating a phrase, the time taken for the breath itself can be exaggerated, becoming the energy for expression. Taking time to breathe is the singer’s form of “conducting” and having the instrumental ensemble well synchronized with the soloist.

Discussing key words, Scholl thought “torment” could be stretched in order to heighten its emotion, “languish” could be more open and English-sounding; brightening “Yet would not” might create a lighter moment of courage.

Scholl talked about the singer having a clear vision of what he or she intends to do and being well prepared for each gesture, yet sounding spontaneous in performance; singing, he said, goes beyond producing soft or strong sounds - the singer should play with colors and be warned not to become a slave to “Baroque affectation” in Baroque music. A fine example of using the latter piece of advice was adding a little vibrato to a messo di voce passage Noa sang, giving the crescendo color and direction. Singing meaningfully means trusting one’s voice, Scholl advised; connecting to one’s voice helps the singer connect to one’s emotion. One should flow with the music and not adjust each sound individually.

The final subject for discussion was on how to produce a more intense “piano” suitable to the end of this tragic aria, not a tranquil or flat piano but one of energy. This sensation can be evolved from working with our “sound fantasy” and can then be remembered as a sensation. We tend to talk about visual fantasy but a musician needs to develop “sound fantasy”.

Noa Bizansky’s flexibility and open mind, together with her creamy voice and ability to reproduce the tragedy of Dido’s predicament, were impressive, and Scholl’s comments, suggestions and vocal demonstration made for a fascinating hour at the JMC.

Andreas Scholl-countertenor (Germany)
Master classes at the Jerusalem Music Centre
January 25, 2009.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Emerson Quartet in Jerusalem

The fourth concert of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s chamber music series featured the Emerson Quartet playing to a packed hall in an evening of works by Schubert and Shostakovich. Formed in 1976, the New York-based quartet is in residence at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Members are violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, who alternate as first and second violinists, Lawrence Dutton-viola and David Finckel-cello.

Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) String Quartet in A minor D.804, “Rosamunde”, composed in 1824, was dedicated to the violinist Schuppenzigh, a violinist of the string quartet appointed by Beethoven, who also played in its premiere performance of the same year. Written in the shadow of the early days of Schubert’s fatal illness, the quartet has an air of melancholy, each movement beginning pianissimo. It also reminisces by quoting other works of the composer. With Philip Setzer as first violinist in this and the second work on the program, we were treated to the haunting “Rosamunde” theme and the contrasting intense moments of the first movement. From the delicate Andante to the Minuetto with its somber ‘cello message, to the final Allegro Moderato in which Schubert reminds us of his liking for the Hungarian idiom, we were presented with a clean, fine performance, perhaps one not quite moving enough for this personal testimony of Schubert’s.

The second work on the program was Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) String Quartet no. 13 in B flat minor, opus 138. Conceived in 1969 and completed in 1970, it, too, is a work composed at a time of chronic illness and its bleak message is presented uncompromisingly and in grim reality. Based on a twelve-tone row and constructed in a single movement slow-fast-slow form, the outer sections suggesting medieval organum, pace and tensions are the essence to this only attempt of the composer at a palindromic form. It was dedicated to Vadim Borisovsky, violist of the Beethoven Quartet, giving the viola a very demanding and prominent role throughout and uses such effects as striking the wood of the bow on the body of the instrument. Violist Lawrence Dutton did justice to the central role played in this vehement and cynical canvas.

For the second half of the concert, Eugene Drucker took on the role of first violin. Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” (Quartet movement) in C minor D.703 (1820) is an unfinished work, consisting of one movement. (There are 40 bars of a second movement in evidence.) Written at a time of uncertainty in Schubert’s creative life, it does, however, make much greater demands on the ‘cellist, being the first chamber work intended for performance by professionals; Schubert, however, was not to hear it performed during his lifetime. The Emerson Quartet brought out both the feeling of unrest and turbulence and the Romantic singing qualities of this much-loved work. The quartet’s interpretation of it felt freer and more engaging than that of the “Rosamunde” Quartet.

“Every piece of music is a form of personal expression for its creator…If a work does not express the composer’s own personal point of view, his own ideas, then it doesn’t, in my opinion, even deserve to be born.”(Dmitri Shostakovich. 1973.) Shostakovich began working on his String Quartet no. 14 in F sharp major opus 142 in England, when visiting the home of Benjamin Britten in 1972, and he completed it in 1973. It was dedicated to Sergei Shirinsky, ‘cellist of the Beethoven Quartet, the quartet that had premiered most of Shostakovich’s quartets. The work consists of three movements – two animated movements flanking an Adagio movement. The first movement, opening with a droll theme given to the ‘cello, is contrapuntal, both agitated and whimsical, ending on a major chord. The Adagio was given a somber and melancholy reading, becoming intense and tragic at times. Moving straight into the third movement, the Emerson Quartet presented intense, driving, atonal moments, offset by dreamy, hazy Shostakovich “landscapes”, contrasted by a Romantic melody in the first violin backed by pizzicato on the ‘cello. Recalling elements from the two previous movements, the work ends on the optimistic note of a major chord.

There is much to be said for the fine programming of this concert. The Emerson Quartet’s playing is polished and it is a paradigm of fine string playing. However, I felt the quartet’s playing reached out more to the intellect than to touch the spirit of the listener.

The Emerson Quartet
Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer-violins
Lawrence Dutton-viola
David Finckel-‘cello
Concert no. 4 of the Chamber Concert Series of the Jerusalem Music Centre
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA
January 8, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Kantorei Sankt Barbara in Jerusalem as guests of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosted the Kantorei Sankt Barbara Chamber Choir in a number of concerts in Israel. From Krakow, Poland, it is an ensemble of mostly young people, established in 2000 as a joint enterprise of the German community at the Church of St. Barbara and the General Consulate of the Republic of Austria, and has become an important part of Krakow’s thriving musical life. Maestro Wieslaw Delimat, its founder and musical director, lectures in organ and choral singing at the Papal Academy of Theology in Krakow and is head of the Archdiocesan Music School and directs the music at St. Mark’s Church in Krakow. The choir’s concert tour to Israel was organized by the Pro Musica Mundi Artistic Association, an organization founded by Krakow musicians in order to promote music in Europe and closer cooperation between musicians from various countries.

The concert on December 27 in Jerusalem, conducted by Maestro David Shemer - musical director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra - opened with two small instrumental works by Baroque composer, violinist and writer of prose and poetry, Adam Jarzebski (1590-1648). Jarzebski spent from 1612 to 1619 as a violinist in the cappella of the Elector of Brandenburg in Berlin, taking leave in 1615 to travel to Italy to acquaint himself with Italian music. On his return to Poland, the composer seems to have joined the cappella of Sigismund III and, later, of Wladislaw IV. His oeuvre, exclusively instrumental, 27 chamber compositions for two, three and four instruments with basso continuo, collected in 1629 under the title of “Canzoni e Concerti”, is an important body of Polish Baroque repertoire. Showing the influence of Italian composers of the time, each piece consists of one movement made up of a number of short, contrasting sections. Jarzebski’s “Sentinella” and “Canzon Seconda”, scored for strings and organ, provided a pleasurable aperitif to the evening’s musical fare.

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c.1665-1734) studied at the universities of Prague and Vienna and was ordained as a priest in Krakow in 1692. After a short stint in Chelmno lecturing in rhetoric and poetry as well as conducting the local orchestra, he returned to Krakow, where he spent the rest of his life as a priest and musician in the Wawel Cathedral there. It stands to reason, therefore, that much of Gorczycki’s output is sacred music, some in the highly contrapuntal stile antico style and some in the later concertante style. The “Completorium”, possibly his most important work, scored for choir, soloists and instrumental ensemble, is of the latter style. The Completorium, the last of the seven daily services of worship, consists mainly of Psalms, the doxology and an anthem. The work is constructed as a kind of choral collage, with the voices of the four soloists intertwined in most movements, both as soloists and as a quartet. Young Polish soprano Jolanta Kowalska has a stable and attractive voice and was sparing in her use of vibrato. Israeli baritone Assif Am-David was articulate and expressive; Israeli tenor David Nortman shone with his beautiful vocal color. Polish alto Agnieszka Monasterska, who lectures in vocal performance at the Krakow Academy of Music, had presence and the audience enjoyed her authentic alto timbre. The choir, itself, makes good use of consonants, is attentive to the finest detail and each vocal section sings as one person. A highly disciplined choir, it places emphasis on blending rather than on showy performance. Their singing of the “Te Lucis”, with its mysterious opening, was spiritual and moving.
“To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with thy wonted favor, thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.”

The final work in the evening’s concert was J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Mass in G minor BWV 235, composed in Leipzig in 1735. This is one of four Lutheran masses composed by Bach, all shorter than the Catholic mass, all four borrowing from previous works of the composer. (Actually, they are all incomplete settings of the Ordinary of the Catholic mass and are sung in Latin, so calling them Lutheran Masses is somewhat of a misnomer.) Vocal soloists were Agnieszka Monasterska, David Nortman and Assif Am-David. In the Qui Tollis, a movement scored for tenor, bassoon, organ and oboe obbligato, Nortman’s musicality, fine diction and rich, warm timbre were set off by Magdalena Karolak’s pleasing oboe sections. In the Domine Fili, Monasterska guided the listener through the text, gliding through melismas with ease, the darker colors and lights of her voice delighting the audience. There were lovely moments in the Gratias, but it seems too low-placed for Am-David’s voice. The choir was velvety, with phrasing and textures clear and transparent. Their singing was modest and somewhat too understated to make for an exciting performance. Shemer brought out the instrumental interest of the work.

“Bach and the Voices of Poland” Program 1
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra
David Shemer-musical director
Kantorei Sankt Barbara
Wieslaw Delimat-conductor
Jolanta Kowalska (Poland) –soprano
Agnieszka Monasterska (Poland) –alto
David Nordman-tenor
Assif Am-David-baritone
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, YMCA Jerusalem
December 27, 2008

On January 1, 2009, The Kantorie Sankt Barbara, under conductor Wieslaw Delimat, performed a concert of mostly a cappella works: sacred works from the Middle Ages to the 20th century as well as a selection of Polish Christmas carols.

In 1580, Renaissance composer, singer, flautist and trumpeter Mikolaj Gomolka (1535-c.1609) published settings of all 150 Psalms in the Polish language, of which the choir sang three. We also heard two motets by Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorkzycki (1667-1734), a Gregorian chant – “Mother of God” and two pieces by the very prolific Stanislaw Wiechowicz (1893-1963), a composer very involved in promoting the art of choral singing in Poland. In Anton Bruckner’s (1824-1896) antiphon “Tota pulchra es Maria” in Phrygian mode for tenor, chorus and organ, we heard tenor Zygmunt Magiera interacting with the choir in an impassioned and moving performance, his control over the “piano” sections impressive.

The choir presented a number of works of the 20th century. Especially interesting were Andrzej Koszewski’s (b.1922) “Blessed be, o Splendid Princess” with its interesting layering, held notes and clear reference to medieval polyphony and Romuald Twardowski’s ((b.1930) tonal and scintillating “Alleluja” an eight-voiced motet for mixed choir.

Maestro Delimat, introducing the Christmas carols in the last part of the program, explained that these songs, centering on the theme of peace, are known to all Poles and are sung within the family circle. The first carol was “God is Born”, arranged by conductor Wlodzimierz Siedlik. A strophic, homophonic song on a simple harmonic scheme, Siedlik’s setting does not lose site of the folk origins of the carol. It was performed with joy and with warmth.

Several of the carols sung were imaginative arrangements by composer Henryk Jan Botor (b.1960), who teaches piano and organ improvisation at the Krakow Academy of Music. In “Come, Shepherds, to the Stable” there were some interesting vocal background effects as well as rhythms suggesting a donkey ride. “The Shepherds Ran to Bethlehem” is a piece for voice and piano. Young tenor Zygmunt Magiera’s performance of it was brilliant yet delicate and sincere.

Well-known choral conductor Stefan Stuligrosz (b.1920) has researched choral music and singing; his oeuvre consists of over 600 sacred choral works and 100 arrangements of Polish and other carols. In his strophic “Sleep Little Jesus”, soprano Izabela Szota gave an emotional and highly colored performance.

The Kantorei Sankt Barbara’s a cappella concert presented works not generally heard here in the Israeli concert hall and this repertoire promoted interest and curiosity on the part of the audience. The choir’s performance of Polish sacred music was impressive not just in its humility and conviction but also in the fine detail and dynamics worked into each piece.

Kantorei Sankt Barbara – A Cappella Concert
Wieslaw Delimat-conductor
Izabela Szota-soprano
Zygmunt Magiera-tenor
Piotr Zagorski-organ
The Mary Nathaniel Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA
January 1, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Troubadour and the Nun

“The Troubadour and the Nun”, a disc on the Etcetera label, recorded by Ensemble Sprezzatura, takes a serious and profound look at the feminine mystery from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Members of the ensemble are Evelyn Tubb-soprano, Michael Fields-medieval harp, Renaissance lute, theorbo and David Hatcher-vielle, recorder, viola da gamba. Songs presented cover many aspects of courtly love and the idealized lady, from songs of the medieval troubadours to those of Renaissance composers. In addition to the joys and suffering of secular love as an ideal or as reality, the disc includes songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary as the embodiment of perfect virtue.

Giraut de Bornelh (c.1138-c.1200), born to a lower class family, was a poet and songwriter at the court of Alfonso II of Aragon and was referred to as the “master of troubadours” by his contemporaries. It is possible he went on the Third Crusade but it is known for sure that he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In “Reis Glorios” an erotic “dawn song” in the Occitan language (also known as Provencal), Evelyn Tubb takes the listener into the timelessness of night, to thoughts and dilemmas. Her singing is sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes accompanied by harp; lute and vielle play interludes.
‘Dear friend, calling you, song lifts my words,
Sleep no more, for I hear the song of birds
that go to seek the day through the trees,
And I fear that you, the Jealous One will seize.
And soon it will be dawn.’

Born in Limousin, Bernart de Ventadorn (1140-c.1180) was another prominent troubadour, the son of a servant. He is credited with 45 songs in various manuscripts, of which 20 have music. His most famous piece is “Can vei la lauzeta mover” (When I see the lark beating its wings). On the disc, the vielle sets the scene and the harp accompanies. The lark, a bird frequently symbolizing the woman, has broken the singer’s heart as she shows him no favor. Tubb breathes despair into each phrase of this tragedy of unrequited courtly love. The poignant anonymous “Bryd one brere” (Bird on a briar), a duet of voice and recorder, also uses the bird symbol.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a German abbess, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, visionary and composer. Tubb performs three of her songs on this disc, all three, needless to say, are songs of devotion to the Virgin Mary. Tubb sings “Ave Generosa”, (Hail, Most Noble Lady) and “O Clarissima Mater” (O shining light, Mother of healing) unaccompanied, weaving the melodic line of each phrase with mastery, articulacy, color, shape and endless interest. “O viridissima virga” (Hail to you, o most green and fertile branch!”), is a song comparing the Virgin Mary’s qualities to Nature. The harp accompaniment is understated, adding the occasional melodic comment and the artists bring out the fresh lushness of the text.
‘And so the Heavens give dew to the grass,
And all the earth rejoices
Because its womb brings forth corn,
And the birds of the air build their nests upon it..’
In a similar spiritual vein is the anonymous “Edi be thu, heven-queene” (Blessed be thou, Queen of heaven), a strophic, lyrical song in Early English in which Tubb, weaving her melodic line into those of recorder and harp, uses the light, pearly color of her voice to present the knight’s admiration of the purity and perfection of the Virgin Mary.

An anonymous 14th century “Lamento di Tristano” is delightfully presented by David Hatcher on vielle. Tobias Hume (1569-1645) a soldier and composer, had a great love of the viol, claiming it could provide polyphony, expression and variation. Hatcher gives Hume’s piece “Death” a pensive, rich and poignant reading, bringing out its melancholic and conversational quality.

The Comtessa de Dia (early 13th century), probably called Beatritz, is the most prolific of the trobairitz – a name given to female troubadours, all of whom were from the nobility. Her works reflect traditional modes of courtly love, but from a woman’s perspective. It seems Beatritz was married to Lord William of Peitieus, but was in love with the troubadour Raimbau d’Aurenga, for whom she wrote many songs. “A chanter m’er” (Now I must sing of that which I would rather not) is the only melody of hers which survives. Hatcher sets the scene with a vielle solo; the song itself is accompanied by harp, with harp and vielle interludes between sections. Beatritz is bitter at being ignored by the man she loves; Tubb adopts a hurt, critical tone, with a touch of tenderness here and there, advising the man she loves that “excess of pride has been the downfall of many”. Is the trobairitz, therefore, more practical in love than the troubadour?

We move to Renaissance England, with two of John Dowland’s (1563-1626) lute songs. “Sweet, stay a while” (after a poem by John Donne) is a parallel to the troubadour “Alba”, or “dawn song”, whereas “I saw my lady weep” reflects the “Canso” style, representing unrequited courtly love. Michael Fields plays a more comprehensive, notated accompaniment on the lute, together with some beautiful ornamentation. In “Sweet, stay a while” Tubb, with her delicate sense of timing and silvery piani, creates that fragile moment between night and day. “The light you see comes from your eyes. The day breaks not…” Soon all will “die” and “perish”. Words, such as “joys”, “desire”, “blissful” and “die” are individually shaped and presented. “I saw my lady weep” is thoughtful and sad but philosophical: “Passion wise, tears a delightful thing.” Tubb’s interpretation brings out the most subtle nuances of texts and deeper meaning. From Dowland’s lute music, Fields performs Dowland’s gentle “Melancholy Galliard” with delicacy… a slow galliard for a melancholy composer.

Nicholas Lanier II (1588-1666) was a composer, singer, lutenist and painter. In “Like Hermit Poor”, soprano voice and bass viol (played in the “lyra” manner) converse and sketch in the bleak details of love as melancholy and despair.

Tubb sings “The Given Heart”, William King’s (1676-1728) song composed to Abraham Cowley’s poem from “The Mistress” (1656), to the accompaniment of a theorbo. The poet is not addressing the lady, rather seeking advice from others with a similar fate to his - a broken heart. His own solution, using military terminology, is extreme: to “blow up all within/ Like a grenade shot from a magazine. Then shall Love keep the ashes and torn parts.” A song of hopelessness, Tubb’s performance is both vehement and tragic, each word given a role in the context, to the very last “fire!” which is given a lingeringly dissonant and painful ornament.

Robert Johnson (1583-1633) a lutenist, composed music for entertainment and theatre at the courts of James I, Prince Henry and Charles I. He wrote catches and drinking songs and also collaborated with poets and playwrights, including Shakespeare. He used Ben Jonson’s poem “Have You Seen but a White Lily Grow?” for the final song on this superb disc. The lady is compared to many of Nature’s beauties. Tubb reinforces the concept of the woman with an almost visible, dazzling, pristine brightness of tone and energy.

This disc is especially interesting and Michael Fields’ notes, as well as all the texts printed, give the listener the information necessary to understand its content. The recording itself is effective and of a high quality. Evelyn Tubb is an artist of depth and rare versatility. Michael Fields and David Hatcher’s solos and accompaniments are nuanced and beautifully phrased, they blend and enhance and meet the challenge of each style with good taste.

“The Troubadour and the Nun”, (ET’CETERA KTC 1361)
Sacred and Secular Reflections on the Feminine Mystery from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
Evelyn Tubb-soprano
Michael Fields-medieval harp, Renaissance lute, theorbo
David Hatcher-vielle, recorder, viola da gamba


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Alon Sariel - mandolin artist. Aviv Competitions 2009

Young as he is, Alon Sariel, born in Israel in 1986, is a mandolin artist with an outstanding record of solo- and chamber music performance of both western and eastern music. I was present at a recital he gave at the Jerusalem Music Centre in the first stage of the 2009 Aviv Competitions, the Israeli Competitions for Young Musicians.

The recital opened with two movements from J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Sonata no.2 for Solo Violin in A minor, BWV 1003. Composed in 1720 when Bach was in Coethen, the six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin have been both transcribed and orchestrated and have been performed variously on piano, harpsichord, viola, -cello, guitar, banjo, lute and marimba, to mention a few. Sariel performed it on a Brescian mandolin, a 4-stringed instrument tuned the same as the violin. In the Andante, Sariel gave the delicate melodic line expression, time to breathe and some rhythmic flexibility. The Allegro was energetic, with emphasis on voice-play, chromatics and harmonic tension.

Playing on the same Brescian mandolin, Sariel continued his recital with Sonata no.1 for Mandolin and Continuo in A major (composer unknown). At the harpsichord was Zohar Sheffi. There had been no time for the two artists to rehearse, but, nevertheless, we were treated to a competent and enjoyable performance, whereby slow movements were ornamented and rich in feeling and fast movements boasted youthful joy and energy and fine technique.

Next on the program was a Pavan by Alfonso Ferrabosco I (1543-1588). Sariel played this piece on the archlute, a lute with an extended neck and 13 or 14 single or double courses of strings, popular in both Italy and England during the Renaissance. Sariel captured his audience in an interpretation into which he wove harmonic interest, a richness of ideas and much elegant ornamentation.

The recital ended with “Two Episodes for Solo Mandolin”, composed in 2008 by Gilad Hochman (b.1982, Israel), and dedicated to Alon Sariel. For this work, Sariel played a modern mandolin built by Arik Kerman (Israel.) In the first piece, “Into a Dream”, a collage of temperaments and textures, Sariel takes his listener into the fractured nature of the dream world, sketching a suggestive canvas of effects where melodic ideas appear and fade. His playing was free and spontaneous, but clearly planned out in his mind. “Under Torn Skies” opened in a strident, dissonant manner, its blatant message intense but punctuated with pianissimo moments, a concentrated and technically demanding movement, handled convincingly by Sariel.

This was a fine opportunity to hear different styles at the hand of this gifted young artist. Sariel’s choice of repertoire was attractive and varied. Following this recital, the artist progressed to the second stage of the competition, winning the audience prize (donated by Meira Gera.) Next week, Alon will be joining the West Eastern Divan Orchestra to celebrate ten years of its existence with a concert tour that will take them to Moscow, Vienna and Milan.

Alon Sariel-mandolin and lute
Aviv Competitions 2009
The Jerusalem Music Centre
December 28, 2008