Saturday, December 5, 2009

Soprano Baroque Magic - the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra

The second concert of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2009-2010 season November 4th 2009 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA, centred around the role of the soprano singer in Baroque music, hence “Soprano Baroque Magic”. Conducted by its founder and musical director Dr. David Shemer, the JBO hosted Israeli soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir.

The subject of women singing in Baroque performance is an interesting one. David Shemer, in his program notes, gives an informative account of the place of women singers at the time, pointing out that the main repertoire offered to them lay in the large body of chamber works performed in private homes for social entertainment, namely chamber cantatas to be performed by aristocratic ladies whose education had often included singing lessons.

The evening opened with A.Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso opus 6, no. 9 in F major. A dance suite with a slow introduction of French-style dotted rhythms, we were nevertheless reminded throughout the work that Corelli is Italian.

The program included two of Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) more than 140 concertos commissioned for performance of the young female students at the orphanage and music conservatory of the Pio Ospidale della Pieta in Venice. The cantatas were composed between 1723 and 1729, with Vivaldi’s duties including supplying the young performers with some two concerti per month. The Concerto for Strings in D minor “Madrigalesco” differs from most of the other concerti in that it has four movements, not the standard three, and that it carries the title “Madrigalesco”, this referring to its vocal-type melodies. A work of miniature proportions, it indeed borrows melodies from sacred works of the composer, assuming a more emotional and vocal approach than other concerti, the opening Adagio, for example, suggesting an overture to a dramatic choral work. Shemer takes his players and audience through the moods and harmonic twists of the work, bringing out its moments of languishing as well as its energetic intricacies.

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was the only non-Italian composer represented on the program but he had spent time in Italy in his youth and had written several operas using libretti in the Italian language, also using Italian in his chamber cantatas. “Crudel tiranno Amor” HWV 97a (The Cruel Tyranny of Love) (c.1721), a cantata for soprano and strings, probably the last work of Handel’s cantata period, sees the composer moving out of the private salon and onto the public stage. Rostorf-Zamir, a singer with a busy opera career both in Israel and Europe, explored the expressive text of the work, using her temperament to convey tenderness moving into despair. Singing with more vibrato than some Baroque artists we hear, she sees herself as part of the whole ensemble, watching both her conductor and her fellow players; she ornaments skillfully and with daring born of competence. Shemer’s use of rests timed well with the dramatic process.

Giovanni Battista Bononcini (1670-1747)’s “Ecco Dorinda il giorno” (See Dorinda the Day) for Soprano, 2 Violins and Basso Continuo was the first cantata in a 1721 edition dedicated to George I.. The cantata centres around the emotions of a young lover leaving his Dorinda. Rostorf-Zamirsang with velvety tenderness, displaying vocal ease and flexibility of range in the virtuosic central aria. Leaning into dissonances, the ensemble gave support to the text, with much communication between individual players.

Michael Talbot, in his book “The Chamber Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi” (2006), writes of the neglect of Vivaldi’s 37 chamber cantatas, referring to them as the “least researched, least discussed, least performed, least familiar” works of Vivaldi’s oeuvre. He surmises that from Vivaldi’s death in 1741 and till the 1940’s, they were probably never heard. One of David Shemer’s aims with the JBO is to present less-known works to his listening public. Vivaldi’s cantata “In furore justissime irae” (When Justice Rages) was the only non-secular work on the JBO program, its text not liturgical but, as Shemer’s program notes read, “a personal and emotional prayer that ends with a jolly and vigorous Halleluiah”. A demanding and exciting work of great beauty, the audience enjoyed Vivaldi’s lively use of orchestration, the solo vocal role also written in an instrumental style. Not phased by this, Rostorf-Zamir showed agility in melismatic passages, excelling in bold ornamentation in da capo sections. Following the delicate, shaped and moving Recitativo, the work ended with the unleashed joy and energy of the Alleluja.

Certainly interesting in its focus, the concert, in its content and performance, delighted the audience Having the printed texts of the vocal works to follow would have been an advantage.

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