Monday, October 25, 2010

Violinist Kati Debretzeni leads the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in a concert of late Baroque music

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra opened its 2010-2011 season at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA on October 12th 2010 with “Father, Son, Godfather and Gardener”, a program of late Baroque music. Baroque violinist Kati Debretzeni conducted the string orchestra (with founder and director of the JBO David Shemer at the harpsichord) and she was one of the soloists of the evening. Debretzeni, whose career in Baroque violin began in the JBO, now resides in the UK teaching and performing there and in Europe. Baroque violinists Boris Begelman, Dafna Ravid and Noam Schuss also soloed. Noam Schuss frequently leads the JBO violins, is first violinist of the Galathea String Quartet, a member of the Tel Aviv Soloists and teaches. Dafna Ravid, a principal lead violinist with the JBO, performs with the Israeli Bach Soloists and the Barrocade Ensemble. Boris Begelman (b. 1983, Moscow), one of today’s most promising Baroque violinists, is currently studying at the Palermo Conservatory, performs throughout Europe as a soloist and is concertmaster of “Il complesso barocco” and “Ensemble Antonio il Verso”, both in Italy.

The concert opened with George Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) Concerto Grosso in G Major, opus 6 no.1, one of a series of 12 lively and elegant concerti grossi for strings. Handel, one of the most assimilated and successful foreign-born composers working in London, knew on what side his bread was buttered. The concerto grosso was a popular genre in Britain, with several English composers writing them for performance. The concerto grosso’s popularity there actually stemmed from a set of twelve composed by Arcangelo Corelli, published 1714 in Amsterdam. Corelli’s Opus 6 remained a concert staple across Britain till the end of the century and Handel would have been well aware of the financial gains of catering to British concert taste. Handel composed his Opus 6 concerti in a burst of creative energy from September to October of 1739, his Opus 6 clearly paying homage to Corelli’s Opus 6. As in all the Handel opus 6 concerti grossi, the concertino in no.1 consists of two violins, a ‘cello and a chordal continuo instrument (harpsichord), with the ripieno consisting of violins, violas, ‘cello and continuo. With Debretzeni leading articulately, the audience enjoyed the contrasts of lyrical and serious with the carefree last movements, woven together with small, clean gestures and harmonic surprises. Debretzeni and violinist Boris Begelman provided a communicative dialogue. Begelman’s playing throughout the evening was a breath of fresh air.

And talking of financial profit, Georg Philip Telemann’s “Tafelmusik” or “Musique de Table” (Table music), published in 1733, was sold by subscription, with other composers and aristocrats from eight different countries all paying good money to have their names inscribed on the first issues. Handel was one of the 206 subscribers and he took the liberty of borrowing from the material. A high quality work, representing different European styles, the Tafelmusik pieces offered much to attract and interest Telemann’s contemporaries. The volumes consist of three large sets or “Productions”, each containing an opening orchestral suite, a quartet, a concerto, a trio, a solo and an orchestral Conclusion. Each set would surely have provided a glittering evening’s entertainment for a banquet or feast. We heard Concerto in F major for Three Violins and Strings from part 2 of the Tafelmusik. In a reading bristling with diversity of expression, we heard Debretzeni, Schuss and Begelman as soloists.

C.P.E.Bach’s (1714-1788) Trio Sonata “Sanguenius und Melancholicus”, published in 1751, was one of the composer’s most programmatic chamber pieces. Kati Debretzeni explained the extra-musical plot, referring to the work as “theatre without words”. C.P.E. Bach himself wrote a long preface describing the main events of the work, outlining each mood and element: it was the composer’s aim to present a conversation between the gregarious, insistent Sangueneus (Debretzeni) and the coy, sad and reticent Melancholicus (Dafna Ravid), the two violinists expressing sentiments that would conventionally have been written into words and sung. Both artists assumed their roles convincingly and with humor, portraying the characters’ initial disagreement and gradual acceptance of each other. C.P.E. Bach’s typically improvisational-sounding score, using dramatic rests, a range of dynamics and textural variety, allows for the many effects, moods and characteristics he wishes to portray. Debretzeni and Ravid take the audience skillfully and expressively through a gamut of temperaments - from sad, complaining, questioning, pleading and bitter gestures to playful and happy sentiments. An interesting concept and well suited to the concert platform, the work was presented well and provided fine entertainment.

Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) L’Estro Armonico (Harmonic Inspiration or Harmonic Fancy) opus 3 for strings and basso continuo, published in 1711, was the collection that made Vivaldi’s reputation in Europe. Published in Amsterdam, it was one of the first sets of Italian concertos to be published outside of Italy and had much influence over musical taste, establishing the model of the 18th century concerto. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot referred to the opus 3 concertos as “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the eighteenth century”. The collection, issued in eight part books, has the 12 concertos arranged in four groups of three, each group containing a solo-, double- and quadruple concerto. “L’Estro Armonico” was dedicated to Ferdinand of Tuscany. Unusually, in the four-violin concertos, the four soloists are accompanied not by an orchestra but by two violas, solo ‘cello and continuo. Vivaldi’s Concerto in D major for Four Violins and Strings opus 3 no.1 is a fine concert piece and, in this concert, gave the audience a chance to hear a line-up of four outstanding Baroque violinists, each on his/her own, in pairs and together – Kati Debretzeni, Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid and Boris Begelman. They incorporated the work’s virtuosity naturally into a sincere and energetic reading, to the enjoyment of the audience.

Composed during the composer’s time in Cothen, where he had a fine orchestra at hand, the score of J.S.Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings has been lost. His son, C.P.E.Bach made a somewhat simplistic arrangement of it for harpsichord in 1733 or 1744, giving the violin the part to the right hand, with the left hand doubling the orchestral bass lines. It does, however, give us a clear outline of what the original violin part must have been. This score did survive. To be performed at concerts at the Zimmermann CafĂ© in Leipzig, J.S.Bach rearranged the work (BWV 1052), this version being more challenging and sophisticated than that of C.P.Bach. (The BWV 1052 concerto, Shemer commented, is often incorrectly referred to as a “piano concerto”.) Here, the violas play an important part. (Bach himself was a violist.) Shemer also points out that the reconstructed solo incorporates some of the highly idiomatic and virtuosic harpsichord style, making it by far the most difficult Bach violin concerto to perform. Kati Debretzeni’s performance of the solo violin part and leadership of the orchestra produced a performance that was based on fine balance and sincerity; Debrtzeni placed no less emphasis on the delicacy and poetry of melodic lines and good taste than on the work’s innate virtuosity.

As to the title of the concert, father and son are, of course, J.S.Bach and his second son C.P.E.Bach. Telemann was C.P.E.Bach’s godfather. In his program notes, Shemer informs us that Handel and Telemann both had a liking for gardening; they corresponded in French on their experiences at raising rare plants and even sent each other seeds!

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