Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra with conductor and viol player Roberto Gini

“In the Flames” was the title given to the third concert of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2009-2010 season January 20th 2010 at the Mary Nathaniel Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem YMCA. Viola da gamba player Roberto Gini (Italy), no newcomer to the JBO, Israeli audiences and early music instrumentalists, was both soloist and conductor in a concert that included works by Telemann, Handel and Sammartini. Gini was playing a viol made by Pierre Bohr (Milan). Dr. David Shemer, the JBO’s founder and musical director, was at the harpsichord. The vocal role in Handel’s cantata “In the Flames” was performed by Israeli soprano Anat Edri.

The evening’s program opened with Georg Philipp Telemann’s (1681-1767) Suite in D Major for Viola da Gamba and Strings TWV 55:D6. In his program notes, Shemer draws our attention to the uniqueness of this suite, mentioning that it is the only known orchestral suite with the viol as soloist, yet it is not a concerto. The Telemann suites would have doubled as individual instrumental works and overtures to operas. A late Telemann work, indeed the last preserved Telemann instrumental work, the Suite in D major for Viola da Gamba and Strings is, in its style, charm and wit, French in flavor; take, for example, the Ouverture, with its dotted figures, so reminiscent of French court music. The JBO’s performance of the work was rich in variety, each dance individual in expression, energy taking the form of imitation, virtuosity, majesty, delicately lilting moments and joy. Gini communicated with the orchestra as the players did with him.

Organist, choirmaster and teacher Giovanni Sammartini (1700-1775) was born in Milan and spent his life there, working as a maestro di cappella in 11 churches. He was the city’s most famous 18th century composer. Sammartini’s influence, however, was far spread, the composer publishing works outside of Italy and coming into contact with J.C.Bach, Mozart, Gluck and Boccherini. He began composing symphonies in 1772, laying the groundwork in leading the form from its function as an opera overture into its Classical (sonata form) entity, his development of the symphony including more wind instruments as time went on. Some 70 of his symphonies survive. (Sammartini’s symphonies were researched and published in a modern edition by Professor Bathia Churgin of Bar Ilan University together with American conductor Newell Jenkins, their order of the composer’s works known as the “JC List.”) Three of the early symphonies were heard at this concert, each chamber work having three movements, Gini reminding us that each of these short symphonies would have served as an overture to a cantata or other longer work.. Gini told the audience that Sammartini’s Symphony in A Major was first performed in Amsterdam with Vivaldi as soloist! The JBO’s performance of it brimmed with Italian effervescence, with Noam Schuss taking the solo violin role. In Symphony in D major JC15, Gini took the liberty of adding an oboe to the violin section and a bassoon to the basso continuo, claiming that not all was necessarily indicated in the score of these pieces. He referred to the work as “an explosion of brilliant ideas in 10 minutes”; performance of its second movement was a poignant, delicate treat. One senses Gini’s wholehearted involvement in this genre. The third symphony heard was Sammartini’s Symphony in G major JC 46, performed with elegance, shape and attention to contrast. Gini’s reading of the symphonies throws light on these small gems and was entertainment at its best.

And so, into the flames. Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) traveled to Italy in 1706, spending four years there, during which time he wrote a number of cantatas for solo voice and instrumental ensemble. Dramatic portrayals, substituting for opera which was banned in Rome, these were mainly performed in private homes. “Tra le Fiamme” (In the Flames), probably written in 1708, is among the finest works of this genre and is unique in its prominent viola da gamba part. Written for Cardinal Pamfilj, who provided the text from Greek mythology, the story is that of Icarus, wearing the wings made for him by his father, who flies too near the sun, with dire consequences following. The allegorical text, however, is concerned with the luring deception of charm and beauty in love. Anat Edri (b.1989, Israel), a vocal student at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, is a singer to watch. With a definite bent for Handel, she has lovely vocal color, glides well through melismatic passages and combines musicality with fine technique. Using her text, she needs to take more chances with emotional content, taking gestures further in intensity – to fly just that bit closer to the flames. Gini’s virtuoso performance spices up the orchestra, the recorders (Drora Bruck, Adi Silberberg) adding color and interest, taking flight with the vocal line.
‘Let him who can fly, fly through the air,
Let him skim over the earth, the sea,
Set off, return; never be still’..

Conductor and artistic director Roberto Gini, born 1958 in Milan, is a virtuoso player and esteemed teacher of bass viol and Baroque ‘cello. He brings with him high performance standards, knowledge, energy and the joy of music-making. This concert was a celebration for those who have a taste for the best of Baroque music.

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