Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra - J.S.Bach - French and Italian Baroque styles.

The fifth concert in the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2008-2009 concert series, May 13th 2009 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship YMCA Jerusalem, was titled “Bach and the Tastes of France and Italy”. Conducted from the harpsichord by the JBO’s founder and musical director, Dr. David Shemer, the program included two works by J.S.Bach – one in the French style, the second in the Italian – as well as works by Lully, Corette and Vivaldi, composers whose styles were of those which had influenced Bach.

J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) four orchestral suites or “Ouvertures” were probably composed between 1725 and 1739 in Leipzig. Scored for strings, harpsichord and flute, the Ouverture (Suite) no. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 is a virtuosic work to challenge the best of flautists, in this performance Israeli-born Tami Krausz, today living in Holland, teaching in The Hague. Following the bold, dotted opening statement typical of the French court style opening movement, the overture breaks into a fugue, its melodic lines articulately crafted in the hands of the JBO. Maestro Shemer’s predilection for court dances is evident in the reading of each that follow the overture: the Rondeau , played stylistically in the inegal manner, was followed by a serious Sarabande, the latter to be whisked away by a lighter, but intensely galloping Bourree. The steps of the Polonaise were accented but not without a lift. Its Double, (variation), was lighter in texture, with Orit Messer-Jacobi’s sensitive playing of the melody on ‘cello set against Krausz’ brilliant embellishing line. As to the final movement, the Badinerie (“badiner” in French means “to jest”), Krausz gave an enchanting, agile and delightfully embellished performance of it.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) had some 500 concertos to his credit; it was he who established the three-movement format, using the ritornello form for fast movements and he was also among the first to introduce cadenzas for soloists. His deft coordination of melody and harmony was much admired by Bach, who had learned much about the Italian style from transcribing Vivaldi’s concertos and trio sonatas. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo in A major was dressed up by fine string playing, in particular with a sparkling performance by Italian violinist Raffaello Negri. Negri is a member of Fabio Biondi’s “Europa Galante” ensemble and has played in a number of the JBO’s concerts of this season.

Jean-Baptiste Lully’s (1632-1687) Suite from “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”, composed c.1668, was one of the works born of the collaboration between Lully and Moliere. Lully, himself, in addition to being a court composer, was a dancer, dramatist and comedian. The play was requested by Louis XIV after a Turkish ambassador had visited Paris, making a rather foolish impression. Louis had asked Moliere to write a play with a Turkish theme and Moliere obliged, including nonsense phonemes to imitate the Turkish language! Lully’s suite opens in a richly, dotted formal overture. Courtly dance forms follow, with the JBO entertaining the audience with delicately handled nuances and accents, stepping out the French dances with elegance and sophistication. In the last movement, “Marche pour la ceremonie des Turcs”, a little percussion was added, coloring the movement with pomp and color. “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is a comedy, but its music, nevertheless, reflects the splendour of Versailles.

French organist, teacher and prolific composer Michel Corrette (1707-1795) wrote much on the subject of performance practice, about English music, the art of accompanying song at the harpsichord and about the differences between French and Italian styles, both of which had influenced his own style of writing. Essentially a Baroque composer all his life, he composed his witty, charming comic concertos, many of them based on well-known songs and popular tunes, between 1733 and 1760, also conducting them between acts at the Opera Comique in Paris. A large proportion of his works are arrangements: his Concerto Comique no.25 “Les Sauvages” (The Savages) is partly based on “Les Sauvages” from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Les Indes Galantes” (The Gallant Indians). The work opened with a demanding set of variations, performed with energy and joy by Negri. The charming Andante for harpsichord, flute (Kimberly Reine) and plucked strings was followed by the hearty “La Furstemburg”, (referring to a prominent family in 18th century Paris), with Negri’s performance enhanced by his fine ornamentation. Reine added an air of elegance to the work.

Of Bach’s few secular cantatas, Cantata no.209 “Non sa che sia dolore” (Only One Who Knows Sorrow) is one of two Bach cantatas written to an Italian text. There is even some doubt as to whether Bach composed it. The date of composition is unknown but the work seems to have been dedicated to someone from Ansbach or traveling to Ansbach, sailing on high seas over which a storm blows up and dies down. The Ansbach court employed Italian musicians and performed much Italian music; this cantata uses original poetry, interpolating passages from works of Guarini and Metastasio and it reflects the A.Scarlatti form of alternating recitative with aria. The performance featured soprano Yeela Avital and flautist Tami Krausz. The opening Sinfonia for flute and strings, in effect, a concerto, sets the scene with a fine mix of orchestral color, shaped phrasing and competent solo playing. Avital uses her golden voice and expressive features to tell a story, to involve her audience in the verbal text. In the third movement, an Aria, Krausz lavishes textures and interest on the flute obbligato part, with Avital painting the first section in somber tones, changing mood with the brighter middle section, infusing it with life and color.
‘Part thou, then, to our deep sadness,
Leave to us our hearts in sorrow.

My country will rejoice,
Most fitly wilt thou serve her;
Pass on from shore to shore now,
Propitious find the wind and billows.’

This was an evening of delight and excellence. Shemer’s program notes make for interesting reading.

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