Saturday, June 12, 2010

Le Poeme Harmonique in the 2010 Israel Festival

Le Poeme Harmonique (France) was founded in 1998 by lutenist Vincent Dumestre, who today continues to be its musical director. The ensemble’s performances focus on music of the 17th- and 18th centuries; they are presented in an authentic, theatrical manner, some performances being enriched by actors, dancers and even circus artists. Le Poeme Harmonique’s “Venezia dalla strade ai Palazzi (Venice: From the Streets to the Palaces) featured as part of the 2010 Israel Festival on May 31st in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. “Venezia dalla strade ai Palazzi” presents music of composers active in Venice in the first half of the 17th century, with emphasis on those central to the development of vocal music and Venetian opera. The concert's program notes discuss the music of a composer calling himself “Il Fasolo” and whether Giovanni Battista Fasolo – a Franciscan friar – and Francesco Manelli – a composer working in Venice - were one and the same person. Soprano Claire Lefilliatre, tenor Serge Goubioud, Jan van Elsacker and bass Arnaud Marzorati were joined by Johannes Frisch-violin, Lucas Peres-lirone (a bowed, stringed, fretted member of the lira family), Francoise Enock—violone, Jean-Luc Tamby-lute and Baroque guitar, Joel Grare-percussion and Vincent Dumestre, himself, conducting and playing theorbo and Baroque guitar.

The stage is in darkness, to be lit only by two large candelabras. (Instrumentalists had electric lights on their music stands.) With the hall then plunged into darkness, the program opened with a rich and riveting performance by bass Marzorati of “Dormo ancora” (Am I still asleep?), the soliloquy from Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” (1640), in which Ulysses expresses concern with his own state. This was followed by the “Lamento della Ninfa” (Lament of the Nymph) from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals (Madrigals of War and Love, 1638) in a heart-rending and profoundly emotional yet controlled performance by Lefilliatre, the male vocal trio alluding to her suffering, the insistent falling 4-note ostinato constantly reminding the listener of the madrigal’s message.

The program included languorous songs by composer and theorbo player Benedetto Ferrari (1603-1681) on the subject of suffering in love.
‘I am defenseless,
Fired with passion;
This traitor Love
Is leading me to the place
Where gradually
My ardour increases;
If I make haste
My heart languishes.
If I halt
I am told I am base;
How unhappy I am!
I am defenseless,
Fired with passion….’ “Son ruinato, appassionato” Benedetto Ferrari

Ferrari and Francesco Manelli (1594-1667) both settled in Venice in 1636, where their operas were performed for affluent members of the general public, not just for the aristocracy. There was much collaboration between the two. Manelli’s love songs heard in the program reflect the same despair as those of Ferrari. The ensemble’s performance of Francesco Manelli’s “Bergamasca: La Barchetta passagiera” (The Passenger Boat), published in Rome in 1627, however, brings about a total change in atmosphere: it is a colorful vignette of conversations between men on a boat . (The bergamesca is a lusty 16th century peasant dance, probably a fast, circular dance for men and women, depicting the reputedly awkward manners of the inhabitants of Bergamo, northern Italy, where the dance supposedly originated.) We hear the men - from Germany, France, Spain and from different regions of Italy, also the boat owner - in much discussion about the various kinds of food and drink they have with them. The male singers of Le Poeme Harmonique give it a dynamic, humorous and energetic performance, bringing a carnival atmosphere, well doused with drink, to the concert hall.

It was an evening of superb artistry, of much interesting movement - mostly expressive hand movements - on the part of the singers, of songs of delicate, sensuous textures and meaning, of heartbreak, on one hand, and of lusty- and lustful joie-de-vivre, on the other. Le Poeme Harmonique’s instrumental ensemble playing was outstandingly delicate and tasteful, its mix of timbres, indeed, delightful. Dumestre is daring and intense. His singers are forthright and impressive. Claire Lefilliatre is a soprano with a powerful mix of vocal colors that match her emotional expression and involvement. The program notes were informative, interesting and included all texts. Unfortunately, with the hall in complete darkness, the audience was unable to follow the texts.

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