Monday, October 19, 2009

Ensemble Nobile at the Mormon University

The Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University) hosted Ensemble Nobile at a concert October 11th in the Sunday Evening Series. Performing chamber works of the 17th- and 18th centuries, Nobile’s members - soprano Yeela Avital, violinist Shlomit Sivan, viol player Amit Tiefenbrunn and harpsichord player Yizhar Karshon - are well known to early music concert enthusiasts.

The ensemble opened its program with dances from the Andre Philidor manuscripts, the largest surviving body of dance manuscripts from the French Ballets of c.1575-1690. In Girolomo Frescobaldi’s (1583-1643) “Se l’aura spira” , Avital’s vocal ease and control conveyed the freshness and pastoral appeal of the words, with Sivan and Tiefenbrunn taking up the melody at different points.
‘If the breezes blow ever charming,
The budding roses will show their laughing faces,
And the shady emerald hedge
Need not fear the summer heat.
To the dance, to the dance, merrily come,
Pleasing nymphs, flower of beauty.’

Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) “Si dolce e il tormento” (So sweet is the torment) composed in 1624, depicts suffering and sadness effectively with falling seconds, lowered sixth degrees and extended phrases. Nobile’s reading of it was delicate and sensitive, Tiefenbrunn resorting to plucking the gamba, with Karshon’s light tenor voice joining Avital in the final verse.

The traditional English ballad “Greensleeves”, in existence since 1580, and quoted twice by Shakespeare, began with instrumental variations, these being followed by the sung version in Avital’s bell-like upper register. Amit Tiefenbrunn created the Greensleeves arrangement. Remaining in Britain, we heard “Music for a While” (c.1692) from Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) incidental music to “Oedipus”. In this miniature masterpiece, Tiefenbrunn and Karshon wove the mesmerizing arpeggiated ground bass against the text in which Avital presented the beguiling and disturbing description of Alecto, one of the Furies freeing the dead “Till the snakes drop from her head.” Although sometimes falling short of crisp diction, Avital always takes the audience with her into the meaning of texts, her phrase-endings artfully crafted.

In Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Sonata for Violin no.2 in A major, opus 2, originally one of 12 sonatas written for violin and ‘cello in 1708, the ‘cello part is no less thematically important than that of the violin. Set against the latter, Shlomit Sivan’s energetic, clean playing brought out the lyricism, passion and virtuosity of the work.

Yizhar Karshon chose to play a Toccata by Michelangelo Rossi (1602-1656), well suited to the bright, highly defined character of the auditorium’s Marcussan organ. Karshon’s playing was forthright and interesting, presenting Rossi’s contrapuntal “distortions” and chromatic practice in all their surprises; contrasted timbres giving expression to each section.

Of Marin Marais’s (1656-1728) more than 700 works, most of which were written for the viola da gamba, his “Les Folies d’Espagne” for viola de gamba and continuo in D major, remained more popular after his death than a host of his other works. Published in 1701 in his second book of pieces for the gamba, the work was only one of many sets of variations based on La Folia by European composers. Covering the gamut writing for the viol, of which Marain Marais himself was a great master, Tiefenbrunn guided his listeners through the 32 harmonic and contrapuntal variations in broad, mellow melodic lines, in stormy, energetic variations, in tranquil, cantabile moments, in variations leading him from high through the low registers of the instrument. No easy feat, but very well handled. Karshon’s playing added interest and elegance.

Providing Jewish content to the program, the ensemble performed three pieces by
Mantuan court composer Salomone Rossi (1587-1628), whose unique motets, employing all the current vocal trends of his day, are in the Hebrew language. Following a Sinfonia, we heard “Shir Hama’alot” (Psalm 128) , typically Italian in style, with its word painting and contrasted sections. The third verse, depicting harmonious family life, becomes a joyful “tripla”. The homophonic piece “Barechu” (We bless the Lord who is blessed) was given a delicate reading.

Ensemble Nobile’s strengths lie in its fine musicianship and varied repertoire. Some of the arrangements are by Amit Tiefenbrunn, but most are the result of a cooperative effort. The group's music-making provides high class entertainment and speaks for itself.

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