Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salomone Rossi Choral and Instrumental Works and more...

The Barrocade Ensemble’s 3rd concert of the 2008-2009 season, “The Songs of Solomon”, focused mostly on the Jewish music of Venice and Mantua at the period ending the Renaissance- and beginning the Baroque period. Joining members of the Barrocade Ensemble in this festive concert was the “Profeti della Quinta” vocal quintet – countertenors Doron Schleifer and David Feldman, tenors Eitan Drori and David Nortman and bass Elam Rotem. Begun in 2003 by harpsichordist Elam Rotem, this quintet specializes in Renaissance polyphonic works, many of which are written for this very combination of voices. They have performed in Europe and Israel and have recorded a disc of works by Salomone Rossi.

Salomone Rossi (c.1570-1630), a Jewish composer and violinist, was born in Mantua and lived there for all of his life. In the early 17th century, there were some 23,000 Jews living in Mantua,; it is known that in 1630 there were nine synagogues there, most of them belonging to the “Italiani” Jews who followed the Roman rite. Rossi’s strong connections with the ruling Gonzaga family stood him in good stead; he enjoyed privileges not granted to most Jews and received some payment from the ducal court but he was also employed by the local Jewish theatrical group. In 1622, he published his “Shirim Asher l’Shlomo” - 33 songs, 20 of which are drawn from Psalms, all in Hebrew. However, none of the texts are from the “Song of Songs”, the word “Shlomo” alluding to Rossi himself. This collection was the first time Hebrew had been set in print and was produced as separate part-books rather than as a complete score. Most significantly, Rossi was the first Jew to compose, perform and publish polyphonic settings of synagogue liturgy for mixed choir. The “Profeti della Quinta” presented a number of these settings, opening with a lush, highly-colored and joyful reading of “For the chief musician of the gitit” (Psalm 8). The group’s profound performance of “By the rivers of Babylon” was imbued with the yearning and fearfulness of Psalm 137. “To whom would I desire” , a wedding ode probably sung in the house of the bride or groom, is written in the Venetian antiphonal style. With Doron Schleifer singing on stage and the other singers placed in the gallery, the audience enjoyed a dynamic and ornamented performance of this wedding ode. The Profeti’s timbre is young, bright, supple and rich, their voices blend superbly, their diction is outstanding and their phrasing well crafted. And what could be more suitable than hearing these gems sung by Hebrew speakers!

Rossi also made significant contributions to instrumental music; his four books of instrumental works include 116 pieces. The Barrocade Ensemble’s concert opened with Rossi’s “Canzon per sonar a 4”, structured from lively, small sections, played attacca.. In the “Sonata a 6” and , the ensemble delighted the audience with melodic interest moving back and forward from the two violins (Shlomit Sivan and Yasuko Hirata) to the two recorders (Katia Polin and Ayelet Karni) – four very fine musicians - as in the final Sinfonia, where we heard much fine ornamentation over the basis of a plucked sound. The program provided an extra attraction to lovers of recorder playing.

Two of Giovanni Gabrieli’s (1554/5-1612) antiphonal madrigals, written for two choirs of four singers each, “Lieto godea” (My Heart is Filled With Joy) and “O, che felice giorno” (Oh, What a Joyful Day) were played by Barrocade instrumentalists. “Lieto godea”, Gabrieli’s most famous madrigal, was also used by Schuetz and Banchieri and its repeated notes suggest it may have been instrumentally conceived. At any rate, the two mixed “choirs” produced a pleasing effect.

Italian composer and church organist, Carlo Grossi (c.1634-1688) was commissioned to write his “Cantata ebraica in diologo” by a Venetian Jewish organization called the “Shomrim la-Boker”, (Morning Watchmen). Tenor Eitan Drori was soloist, with the other singers forming the chorus; the dialogue, in the style of Monteverdi, is between a passer-by (Drori) in the form of recitatives and morning watchmen, in ritornelli. Drori’s performance in this colorful work was engaging.

Tenor David Nortman sang three unaccompanied “Piyutim” (Jewish liturgical poems) originating in Italian tradition. He opened with the beautiful Italian “Maoz Tzur” (Rock of Ages) which is sung during Chanukah (Feast of Lights), he continued with “Ya, Shema Evyonecha” (Lord, Hear the Misery of Your People) (text:Yehuda Halevi), sung during the days leading up to the Day of Atonement and “Tzur Mishelo Achalnu”, (Lord, Who Provides us with Sustenance) an early text, poet unknown, sung after a meal. Nortman, with a background in both church- and Jewish music, was outstanding in his performance; he has a golden tenor timbre, his singing glowing with excellent intonation, comfortable stage presence, fluency, directness and joy in the message of each piyut.

And another treat lay in store for the audience: arranged for ensemble and voices by Amit Tiefenbrunn in the Barrocade “folk Baroque” style, we heard the Judeo-Italian melody of the Aramaic Passover song “ One Kid Goat”. The soloist was Doron Schleifer, who took the audience all the way with him in his brilliant, foot-tappingly rhythmical and humorous performance of the cumulative story. Schleifer’s countertenor range is rich in color and stability and he has much stage personality.

Kudos to harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon for his creative and daring programming and to Barrocade and the Profeti della Quinta for polished performance of the kind that goes straight to the audience’s heart.

“The Songs of Solomon”

Barrocade Ensemble:
Katia Polin, Ayelet Karni-recorders
Shlomit Sivan, Yasuko Hirata-violins
Alexandra Polin-‘cello
Amit Tiefenbrunn-violone
Alon Portal-double bass
Michael Eli-colascione
Eitan Hoffer-theorbo
Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord

Profeti della Quinta:
Elam Rotem-artistic director, bass, harpsichord.
Doron Schleifer, David Feldman-countertenors
Eitan Drori, David Nortman-tenors

The Mary Nathanial Golden Hall of Friendship,
YMCA Jerusalem
March 4, 2009

No comments: