Monday, January 10, 2011

Viola da gamba player Roberto Gini in a solo recital at the Eden-Tamir Music Center in Jerusalem

The hall of the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem (Jerusalem) was plunged into darkness. Roberto Gini, viola da gamba in hand, entered the stage, sat down and lit an old-fashioned standing lamp, shedding light on his music stand. Thus began “Les delices de la solitude” (The Delights of Solitude), a solo viol recital by the great Italian exponent of the instrument, Roberto Gini, on January 1st 2011. In a highly informative article written by Gini, the artist penned his thoughts on compiling such a program of works relatively little-known to the concert-going public. For music for the viol was, at least till the 18th century, “an introspective instrument that expresses itself in poetic and musical language, intimate and solitary”. Considering the problems of choosing suitable pieces for the program, Gini made it his aim to present listeners with “the soul and expressive potential of the instrument”. Roberto Gini performed the recital on a bass viola da gamba built by Pierre Bohr (Milan) in 1991 after an instrument by Michel Colichon (c.1666-1693).

The recital opened with some ricercars from “Regola Rubertina” (Venice, 1542) and from “Lettione Seconda della pratica di sonare il violone” (1543), treatises by recorder- and viol teacher Silvestro Ganassi dal Fontego, both important sources in the understanding of technical and expressive approaches to the gamba and instrumental music of the period. Gini’s playing of these pieces was subtle and richly colored, the ornate, melodic “searching out” quality of the ricercar form expressing itself in a spontaneous fashion. Spanish composer and theorist Diego Ortiz (1510-c.1570) published the first ornamentation manual for bowed instruments. Gini played Ortiz’ Fantasia terza. In the intimate space of the Eden-Tamir Music Center the listener becomes acutely aware of the shapes, moods and affects of these superbly crafted vignettes.

Scottish-born composer Tobias Hume (1569-1645), one of the most eccentric and enigmatic composers on record, was a soldier by profession. He was an amateur viol player, his “idleness addicted to Musicke”, however, clearly a virtuoso musician. His pieces treat the newly-popular gamba as an independent solo instrument, orchestrated with melody and harmony. Gini performed a group of pieces from Hume’s “Musicall Humors” (a pun on the composer’s name) (1605), written mainly in tablature, this being the first publication dedicated to the lyra viol – a style of playing that treated the instrument polyphonically, as the lute. An “outsider” in all respects, Hume wrote music that was often too abrasive in style to be played at court and too difficult to be played by amateurs. In the descriptive and tender “Captaine Humes Pavin”, Gini’s superbly paced reading of it is both singing and varied in textures, his mastery of liberty allowing time for the melodies and feelings intrinsic to the work to unfold. The pieces in this collection are peppered with memories of the soldier and mercenary’s experiences, travels and acquaintances – a dignified description of “Beccus an Hungarian Lord”, the earthy “Duke John of Polland his Galiard”, the saucy “Touch me Lightly” (Hume was a frequenter of brothels and pubs) and the hearty, carefree, rollicking “A Souldiers Galiard” (Captain Hume was known to carry the viol with him even when encamped in a field!) Gini’s imagination and daring use of textures allow him to read into the brazenly honest, witty, affecting and poignant character of these unique pieces.

Little is known about le Sieur de Sainte Colombe (c.1630-c.1700); he was a fine amateur player, was Marin Marais’ teacher. Never a court musician, he was known to have organized chamber music concerts in his private salon. He is known to have extended the viol range downwards with the addition of a seventh string, and instituted the use of silver-spun strings in France, thus allowing for greater contrast of range and timbre and a richer, more strongly anchored sound. From the time his volume of “65 Concerts a deux violes egales” was discovered in 1966 in Alfred Cortot’s music library, there has been much interest in the composer and his oeuvre. Roberto Gini performed one of Sainte-Colombe’s solo bass viol suites from the collection of some 144 pieces in the Tournus Manuscript (Burgundy). A work composed in the 17th century tradition of solo unaccompanied viol music, it is a highly intimate work, a world of sound connecting the player to his inner self. Gini remarks on how “similar the colors and movements of sound are to the colors , gestures and expressions of the paintings of Alexandre-Francois Desportes, Hyacinthe Rigaud or Jean-Marc Nattier…” Gini’s performance of the Prelude is detailed in its elegant play of voices, its detailed gestures, in its air of spontaneity and eloquence. In the Allemande, Sainte-Colombe’s use of the whole range of the instrument is evident, including the use of solid bass textures. Following the Courante, the Sarabande was expressed in a pensive, personal language, Gini spreading the musical map in front of the listener gesture by gesture. In the final richly detailed Chaconne, Gini reminds his audience of how creative and profound the process the reading such a text can be.

Taking the listener to the last era of the viola da gamba, we heard G.Ph.Telemann’s (1681-1767) Sonata a Viola di Gamba senza Cembalo in D major TWV 40:1 (1728-1729). Telemann first printed the work in his music magazine - the first of its kind in Germany – “Der getreue Music-Meister”. In its four movements, the sonata takes the listener on a whirlwind European tour. Gini plays the English-sounding Andante in poetic simplicity, his phrase endings finely chiseled. The Vivace, an Italian kind of virtuosic string piece, is followed by the German styled Recitatif, Gini’s presentation of each phrase articulate, each strategically positioned, the different voices poignant in conversation. The final Vivace is in the French gamba style, Gini’s treatment of its melodic shapes never overshadowed by technical bravura.

German-born Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), composer of orchestral- and chamber music, was well-known for his lively collaboration with J.C.Bach in producing subscription concert series in London, where he spent the latter 20 years of his life. Abel was, however an expressive and technically virtuosic player of the outdated viol and was known as a master improviser (even when drunk). The Drexel Manuscript, belonging to the musical archives of painter Thomas Gainsborough, contains 29 pieces written by Abel for the viola da gamba. A product of the Classical period, the pieces do not classify as Baroque suites, neither were they written for performance in court: they are freely-composed, personal pieces for the composer to play for himself or in company at a time when much music was being played in the private homes of the wealthy middle class. Yet, as we heard in Gini’s performance of the pieces, the demands of dexterity, fingering and bowing on the part of the player hark back to those in earlier French viol works. Roberto Gini played four of Abel’s pieces, showing their delicacy, the emotion created by harmonic development, their melodiousness and embellishments. The last of the four pieces, hearty and bristling with voices and ideas, shows the viola da gamba as a truly virtuoso instrument; yet Gini manages to present its complexities in his touchingly straightforward and sincere fashion.

Roberto Gini’s program was as representative of the repertoire for solo bass viol as it was of his art and his profoundly personal connection with the instrument. The audience was deeply moved by his artistry and his humility.

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