Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Israeli musicians perform at the Redeemer Church (Jerusalem) to protest the cancelling of a festival to have taken place in Jerusalem's churches

On February 15th and 16th 2010, two concerts were held by musicians in protest of religious coercion and in favor of freedom of the arts in Jerusalem. The concerts were in response to the fact that a festival of music in the churches of Jerusalem, to have taken place end of February under the auspices of the Authority for Developing Jerusalem, was cancelled by same organization.

The evening of February 16th was wintry. However, inclement weather did not prevent a large crowd of people from attending the concert at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. Following words expressing dissatisfaction at the situation (mostly inaudible, due to the echoing acoustics of the church) the evening’s musical program began.

It was a fitting tribute to the Redeemer Church to begin the concert with a short organ recital. The organ in the Redeemer Church, built in Berlin by Karl-Schuke in 1971, has 21 registers connected to two manuals and the pedal and is an instrument rich in colors and inspiring energy. Gideon Meir opened the concert with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s “Ballo del Granduca” (Ballet for the Grand Duke), a set of variations inspired by a popular tune and originally performed at a wedding of the Medici family. Influenced by court dance procedures, Meir performed the pieces, written in a strict and chordal style, in an unrushed manner, contrasting textures and registers and presenting florid moments with aplomb. This work was followed by a subtle and intimate reading of Sweelinck’s “Pavana Lachrymae” after John Dowland’s “Flow my Teares”. In his treatment of the song, Sweelinck takes the three strains, elaborating on the particular characteristic of each, adding his own mournful effects to the already plangent song.

Turning to works of a more sacred nature, Gidi Meir performed J.S.Bach’s chorale prelude for organ “Wer nun den lieben Gott laesst walten” BWV 642 (Who allows God alone to rule him) from the “Orgelbuechlein” (Little Organ Book). Based on a popular hymn, we hear phrases of the unadorned chorale melody surrounded by counter-themes that reflect the mood of the hymn text. Meir’s playing of it was serene. Joining liturgical- with secular music, Meir completed his section of the concert with Dietrich Buxtehude’s chorale-partita “Auf meinen lieben Gott” (In my beloved God) – dance variations on the chorale melody. All the dances use the same melody and harmonic progression, the play of registers giving expression to each dance. In Meir’s own words “the changes in meter, rhythm and tempo of each dance highlight different emotions and affects, giving spiritual, psychological and emotional depth to the chorale”. This tasteful and moving recital was Gidi Meir’s debut as a concert organist.

Mezzo-soprano Carmit Natan and lutenist Eliav Lavi performed three of John Dowland’s songs, beginning with “Now o now I needs must part”. Natan’s crystal-clear diction and pure, well-projected vocal sound rang through the church, as did Lavi’s finely shaped, artistic and articulate phrases. They ended their part of the concert with Dowland’s “Flow my Teares”, now as a lute ayre. Natan conveyed the grief and melancholy written into its musical- and verbal text.

The Naama Women’s Choir founded in 1989 by singer, teacher, conductor and arranger Mrs. Pnina Inbar, who continues to direct the choir, sang a number of pieces, some a cappella, others accompanied by Yelena Shumietzky at the piano. The choir performs in subscription concerts, festivals and competitions in Israel and further afield. The Naama Choir boasts a fine blend of voices, careful intonation and performance of a high quality. We were presented with a taste of the ensemble’s varied repertoire from a dramatic, well-shaped reading of the little-known but ravishing music of P,G.Chesnokov, Palestrina’s “Sanctificavit Moyses”, a sensitive, well crafted performance of Gounod’s “Ave Verum” and a transparently French performance Faure’s “Ave Maria” opus 93 (1906) scored for two high voices and organ/piano. Following Inbar’s arrangements of a traditional Jewish Bukharian melody and of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), choir members let their hair down with two African American spirituals. Solos were handled well by Tali Yusopon.

And to four works performed by viola da gamba player Myrna Herzog from her solo bass viol recital “Heart to Heart”, recently heard in Israel, to be performed at the 2011 Sarajevo Winter Festival February 22nd. Opening with Aharon Shefi’s emotional and contemplative piece “Known Direction” (composed originally for violin and transcribed for the viol for Herzog in 2010 by the composer), she then lightened the atmosphere playing three short pieces by the eccentric and colorful British viol player and composer Tobias Hume. Following pieces by German composer Karl Friedrich Abel, the last great viol player before the instrument’s popularity gave way to more modern stringed instruments, the artist ended with a performance of Dina Smorgonskaya’s “Sephardic Reminiscences”, a work colored with Spanish temperament and instrumental effects. (Smorgonskaya emigrated to Israel from Belarus in 1990.) The work was composed for Myrna in 2004. Herzog’s playing sounded articulate in the Redeemer Church’s acoustic, her choice of works offering the audience an opportunity to hear and appreciate early- and contemporary viol works in the hands one of today’s most inspiring viol players. Myrna Herzog proved that creating the intimacy of the solo viola da gamba was feasible even in a large church.

The concert ended with songs sung by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir. With ensemble’s conductor Ronen Borshevsky away overseas and several of its singers not present, Haggai Goren took the lead and conducted some of the works performed in the choir’s recent concert tour of Geneva. Beginning with Amsterdam rabbi David Aaron de Solas’s tranquil “Adon Olam” (Lord of all), they then sang Gil Aldema’s arrangement of “Eli, Eli” (Walk to Caesarea) to words of Hannah Senesh. We then heard a medley of Yemenite songs, Amit Pal’s darbuka playing adding vigor to these already joyful pieces. Their section of the concert ended with two African American spirituals.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

David Sebba conducts the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and members of the Israel Opera Workshop in excerpts from Die Fledermaus

A “Viennese Celebration” was the title of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s semi-staged performance of excerpts from Johann Strauss II’s operetta “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat.) Taking place on February 9th 2011 in the Henry Crown Auditorium (Jerusalem Theatre) the concert was the third of this season’s Vocal Series and the fourth of The Light Classics Series. David Sebba conducted the JSO and singers of the Israeli Opera Studio.

The Opera Studio is a practical study- and performance program for young Israeli opera singers who have graduated from music academies and are about to embark on an operatic career. The Opera Studio works at widening the young singers’ operatic knowledge, enabling them to gain musical and acting experience in both solo- and ensemble capacities. David Sebba is musical director of the Israel Opera Studio.

Israeli-born pianist, conductor, singer and translator David Sebba, a graduate of the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, has composed theatre music, creates arrangements, orchestrates and has participated in several Israel Opera productions as a singer, pianist and conductor. He has translated several operas into Hebrew. In 2003 he established the OddOpera opera ensemble. He directs choirs, directs opera studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and is Conductor in Residence of the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra. Sebba’s own show “Mad about Opera” is a parody on the history of voice and opera.

In 1873, in an attempt to distract the Viennese public from the city’s economic depression, the director of the Theater an der Wien purchased the rights to the Parisian vaudeville “Le Reveillon” by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, eventually requesting the theatre’s conductor Richard Genee and Johann Strauss II to compose the music for the operetta. Strauss composed it in 42 days (actually 42 nights) of relentless work. At its premiere in 1874, the overture was interrupted several times by applause; the work was quickly to become the composer’s most popular operetta.

All the who’s who of Viennese society will be attending Count Orlovsky’s ball. They just do not want each other to know. Gabriel von Eisenstein should be going to prison and is keeping a low profile. His wife Rosalinde and her lover, Alfred, are keen not to be recognized. Their maid, Adele, should be tending to her sick aunt but attends the ball dressed in one of Rosalinde’s gowns. Eisenstein’s best friend, Falke, is planning to take revenge on Eisenstein for playing a practical joke on him. (In their younger days, the two had attended a fancy dress ball – Eisenstein dressed as a butterfly and Falke as a bat. Falke had become drunk and Eisenstein had left him under a tree, having to walk home through the town in the bat costume.) At the ball, taking the identity of the “Marquis Renard”, Eisenstein is very taken by a Hungarian countess (his wife) wearing a mask. She manages to take his pocket watch, with which she will prove his infidelity. In the final scene, set in the prison, all masks are lifted, identities are known and truths revealed. Eisenstein and Rosalinde clear up their misunderstandings.

Within the first strains of the overture, the realities and pressures of today’s world has melted away and the audience is swept into the evening’s frivolities with snippets of the Waltz King’s most loved melodies, waltzes and polkas, their joie-de-vivre punctuated by small tugs at the heart strings. David Sebba was wielding a large orchestra, its palette strongly colored and compelling. Nadav Inbar (Alfred) was convincing and comical, his voice well projected. In the role of Falke, baritone Shlomi Wagner’s fine diction and fresh brightness of vocal color were pleasing. Mezzo soprano Na’ama Goldman, playing Prince Orlovsky, has an interesting voice and natural acting ability, her singing clean and not over-upholstered with vibrato. Guest singer tenor Nimrod Grinboim (Eisenstein) pleased the audience with his competence, humor and stage presence.

Soprano Avigail Gurtler took on every bit of the character of Adele, the Eisensteins’ flighty and coquettish maid. She makes good use of facial expression and body language and has a real feel for comedy. Her voice, although not large, is agile, her intonation good and she flits through her high register with ease, hitting high notes with clarity.

Efrat Ashkenasi was most impressive in her portrayal of Rosalinde. A soprano with an interesting mix of vocal color, she is an opera natural with her musicality, poise, brilliant vocal ability and sense of humor. Disguised as a Hungarian countess, she makes her grand entrance at the ball wearing a stunning gown of red, black and silver brocade; masked, carrying a fan and speaking with a thick Hungarian accent, she uses her temperament to present the farce in all its absurdity. She sings the Hungarian czardas to convince everyone of her authenticity:
‘Sounds of my homeland,
You awaken my longing,
Call forth tears
To my eyes!
When I hear you
You songs of home,
You draw me back,
My Hungary, to you!....

Preceding Act 3, we were presented with a number of operatic arias – a mini concert within the opera. Guest singer Agam Englard-Saar performed three arias by Franz Lehar – two from “The Merry Widow” and one from “Iuditta”. Englard-Saar’s voice is full and expansive, her performance theatrical and experienced. Playing Ida, Yifat Weisskopf’s choice of the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” was well suited to her temperament and the heavy timbre of her voice. Affiliated with the Israel Opera Studio, South African tenor Given Nkosi joined the concert, singing opera favorites, delighting the audience with his fine and polished performance. His “O solo mio” was a winner!

It is encouraging and heartening to hear and see these fine, young opera singers taking courageous, confident strides onto the opera stage. In fact, it is exciting! David Sebba’s user-friendly rhyming translation of texts and lively conducting added much to the enjoyment of the evening. The JSO, in fine form and as much a part of the rollicking good fun as the singers, was too powerful for the voices of some of the young soloists.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Opera Aeterna performs Boccherini's zarzuela "La Clementina"

On February 3rd 2011, the Jerusalem theatre chamber opera collective Opera Aeterna presented the Israeli premiere of Luigi Boccherini’s “La Clementina” at the Hirsch Theatre, Mercaz Shimshon (Jerusalem). Aeterna Opera was founded in 2003 by Ilya Plotkin (in Israel since 1992), who continues to direct the music. Ilya Plotkin also directs the Musica Aeterna vocal a cappella group. Producing an opera every year, most of Opera Aeterna’s singers are also from the former Soviet Union.

Luigi Boccherini’s (1743-1805) musical legacy of some 350 works includes 20 symphonies, 8 ‘cello concertos, 91 string quartets, 154 quintets, 60 trios, religious works, guitar arrangements and his one opera “La Clementina” (1786). His only work for stage, it was written when the composer was living in Spain, on request from the wealthy Benevente Osuna family, which kept its own private orchestra, the Duchess of Osuna having appointed Boccherini to conduct the orchestra at the Puerta de la Vega Palace in Madrid. “La Clementina” (bearing the name of the composer’s late wife) an opera in one act, was called a zarzuela - a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre constructed of spoken- and sung scenes. Most of the humor is in the spoken texts, there being no recitatives. The text was written by Ramon de la Cruz (1731-1794). The latter’s plots, based on contemporary Madrid life on various social levels and set to music mostly by Spanish composers, contributed much zest to Spanish musical theatre.

In the Aeterna production, “La Clementina” is presented as a “soap opera”, with Noam Rubinstein emceeing as a television announcer, comically filling audience members in on what has just happened, rather than informing them as to what is in store. He also plays the (non-singing) roles of both Don Clemente and the Marquis, demanding quick character- and costume changes. Musician, writer and actor, Rubinstein is a member of the Clipa Dance Theater Company and is a professional medical clown.

The setting is Don Clemente’s house, where we meet the housekeeper Dona Damiana (Helena Plotkin) and servant Cristeta (Julia Plakhin). Don Clemente has two daughters: the older being the sweet, demure Clementine (Shirelle Dashevsky) and the younger, the fickle Narcissa (Galina Zifferblat). They study music with Don Lasaro (Andrei Trifonov); he is frustrated with his two students and always eager to be off (to a moonlighting job, perhaps?) A young, rich nobleman, Urbano (Dmitry Semenov) comes to the house, falls in love with Clementine and composes a gentle romance in her honor. Urbano then receives a letter informing him that his father is seriously ill and, more importantly, that the father has a daughter who turns out to be no other than Clementine! As Urbano’s sister, she will now be rich. The opera ends with all eight characters paired off., the four new uncomely couples as unsuited and totally comical, Rubinstein comments, “as only happens in opera!”

With much of the work’s humor included in the spoken text, the music consists of few arias, some duets and mostly of through-composed vocal ensemble pieces. Perhaps more suitably called an “opera buffa” (it lacks the Spanish character of the typical zarzuela) the work is fresh and consistently dynamic. The Aeterna production makes the most of each character’s personality traits, from those of the childish and rebellious Cristeta and Narcissa, to the dutiful Dona Damiana and Clementine, to the doddery, grotesque Don Clemente, and so on. Noam Rubinstein’s wit, flexibility and command of the stage are outstanding.

Ilya Plotkin chooses his singers carefully; there is much fine blending in the various vocal ensembles. Shirelle Dashevsky shone as the pure-spirited Clementine; playing the cheeky Cristeta, Julia Plakhin’s large, richly-colored voice was, as ever, pleasing; Helena Plotkin (Dona Damiana) has good stage presence, supported by much vocal competence. Baritone Andrei Trifonov, his voice rich and dependable, took leave of dramatic operatic roles to join in the high jinks of Don Clemente’s household. Galina Zifferblat, in her first role with Opera Aeterna, performed with vocal ease, her voice fruity and rich; she was well cast as Narcissa and sparkled with feisty charm and coquettishness.

Coiffed in white wigs, Maestro Ilya Plotkin and his string orchestra, with Nataly Rotenberg at the harpsichord, were placed at the back of the stage. Their playing of Boccherini’s joyful instrumental score, bristling with dance rhythms, was tasteful and well attuned to the singers. The stage setting was simple but elegant in its lush brocade drapes. Effective props were artistically cut from white cardboard. Costumes were not only exquisite: each character was dressed in accordance with his or her character. Kudos to Irina Tkachenko for her attractive stage design and costumes. And three cheers to stage director Masha Nemirovsky for her creative and witty directing, infusing movement and a smile into the visual aspect and pace of the opera, keeping those on stage and the audience on their toes.

The driving force behind Opera Aeterna is Elinor Plotkin, a person of initiative and energy, without whose devotion and vision these wonderful musical projects would never become reality. Opera Aeterna enjoys the support of the Ministry of Absorption’s Program for Immigrant Artists, the Jerusalem Foundation and of the Sherover Foundation.

Opera Aeterna’s annual production is, indeed, a festive event in Jerusalem. Its performances are highly polished and professional. One performance of “La Clementina” is certainly not enough!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Margaret Faultless leads the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in a "Harmony of Tastes"

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s fourth concert of the 2010-2011 season, February 1st 2011 in the Mary Nathanial Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA, was an evening of “Harmony of Tastes”. British violinist and conductor Margaret Faultless, no newcomer to Israeli concert audiences, led and soloed in the concert. Other soloists were Noam Schuss (violin), Orit Messer (‘cello) and Sharon Rosner (viola da gamba). The theme of the concert revolved around Italian- and French styles in Baroque music, allegiance to one or the other and their infusion.

Margaret Faultless, an internationally renowned specialist in early performance practice, has a busy professional schedule; co-leading “The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directing the Devon Baroque Chamber Orchestra and directing studies in the European Union Baroque Orchestra are just some of her many activities. Vivacious and humorous and a natural leader, she believes the rehearsal process should allow players to express ideas and opinions.

Israeli violinist Noam Schuss specialized in Baroque violin with Walter, Reiter, Andrew Manze and Catherine Mackintosh. She performs as a soloist, frequently leading the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, plays first violin in the Galathea String Quartet (Israel) and is an active member and soloist with the Tel Aviv Soloists. She is also involved in music education.

Israeli conductor and viola da gamba player, Sharon Rosner studied double bass at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague and at the University of California (San Diego). Discovering early music, he taught himself to play the viol, taking master classes with Jordi Savall and Pedro Memelsdorff. Back in Israel, Rosner has been a member of the JBO and other ensembles. Together with harpsichordist Zohar Shefi, he founded Ensemble Antique (2006) and the Israel Bach Soloists (2008).

The concert opened with Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso opus 6, no.1 in D major. Opus 6, a collection of 12 concerti grossi, was published in 1708. A da chiesa concerto, the movements of opus 6 no.1 carry tempo markings rather than dance titles and these different tempi provide some of the contrast of the piece. Margaret Faultless does not go overboard with extreme speeds, rather placing emphasis on dynamic- and mood shifts, interaction between solo instruments and the transparent clarity of Baroque instruments, with solo Baroque violins blending more happily with the ensemble than modern violins.

Jean Baptiste Lully’s (1632-1687), although born in Italy, is remembered as the founder of the French Baroque style. His fourth tragedie-lyrique opera “Atys” (1676), written for Louis XIV, was first staged at the king’s residence at St-Germaine-en-Laye, the hall lit with thousands of candles. The opera performance took over four hours, with the king being the only spectator to have the privilege of sitting on the chair with a back! Despite the opera’s unhappy end (uncharacteristic of Lully operas), the Sun King liked the story of royals and deities tangled in tragic love, jealousy, revenge and mistaken identities, with Louis identifying with the protagonist (who, in the end, is punished after death by being turned into a pine tree.) The Suite from “Atys” we heard consisted of a French overture, dances and Airs. (Actually, the Air in French opera of this period is a piece to accompany any dance or other movement on the stage that does not fall into one of the standard dance categories, namely the minuet, gavotte or chaconne.) Excluding the drama and “tragedie” of the plot, Faultless and the JBO treated the audience to the delicacies and charm of some of the French Baroque court dances in “Atys”.

Remaining in the French court, and in a theatrical mindset, we heard Francois Couperin’s (1668-1733) Eighth Concert “Dans le gout theatral” (In Theatrical Taste) from his collection of “Les Gouts-Reunis”, written as an instrumental suite for domestic enjoyment. Beginning with a stately overture that moves into a lively ¾ section, followed by lively dances and trio sections, the JBO’s performance of it presented effective variation of textures and color. From two fragile “Air tendre” movements to the sharp rhythmic profile of the Loure, from Faultless’ delicate treatment of the solo in the Sarabande to the more compelling character of the “Air leger” sections, playing was mellow yet energetic, Faultless’ tempi never extreme. In his program notes, David Shemer, the JBO’s founder and musical director, refers to the work’s “unusual musical language and extroverted character”. Solo viol player Sharon Rosner added much to the enjoyment and stylistic reading of the work.

German composer Georg Muffat (1653-1704) provides an interesting and important link between late 17th century French- and Italian music. As a youngster, he had studied with Lully. He was in the service of Archbishop Max Gandolph in Salzburg, a generous patron. In fact, Muffat’s 5-part “Armonico Tributo” (Harmonic Tribute) (1682) was dedicated to the Archbishop on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the foundation of the Archbishopric of Salzburg. The dedication includes thanks to the Archbishop for allowing Muffat travel to Italy to study the concerto grosso techniques with Corelli. Muffat’s Sonata no. 5 in G major from “Armonico Tributo”, a concerto grosso, was written when he was still in Italy. Scored for two violins, two violas and basso continuo, Muffat himself explained that it was “suitable for few or many instruments”. Somewhat more robust in texture than the French music on the program, Faultless and her players colored the sonata with textural contrasts, in the final Passacaglia, exploring the gamut of expression and scoring of the variations.

J.S.Bach (1685-1750) draws the threads of the French and Italian styles into one brilliantly integrated compositional force. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for two violins, strings and basso continuo, BWV 1043 was the final work on the program. Margaret Faultless and JBO string leader Noam Schuss were the soloists in the Double Concerto; their playing – inspired, energetic and articulate - was a celebration of joy, like-minded thinking and the immeasurable beauty of the work itself.

Led by Maggie Faultless, with Maestro David Shemer at the harpsichord, the JBO’s ensemble sound throughout the evening was integrated and flexible, dynamic, spontaneous and nuanced, expressing, defining and joining styles in a harmony of good taste.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Patrick Cohen-Akenine leads and solos with Barrocade in "Bach in Versailles" at the Weill Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu

“Bach in Versailles” was the title of the third concert of Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective’s 2010-2011 season. This writer attended the concert at the Weill Auditorium, Kfar Shmaryahu January 25th, 2011. Violinist Patrick Cohen-Akenine (France) was both soloist and leader. He was joined by soprano Yeela Avital, recorder-player and Baroque flautist Anja Hufnagel (Germany), oboist Shai Kribus and violist Katya Polin (recorder).

The Barrocade Ensemble (musical director Amit Tiefenbrunn) was established in 2007 by a number of Israeli early music artists returning from studies and performance experience in Europe. Some are also instrument builders. The ensemble mostly plays without a conductor, as did such groups in the 18th century.

On his first concert tour of Israel, Patrick Cohen-Akenine (b.1966) began his career specializing in chamber music performance, working with some of the greatest quartets; the other “string in his bow” is early music. He studied Baroque violin with Patrick Bismuth and Enrico Gatti, has led several Baroque ensembles and, in 2000, formed “Les Folies Francoises” – a group exploring instrumental and vocal repertoire of the 17th- and 18th centuries as well as that of the classical period. Together with a number of musicians and musicologists, Cohen-Akenine is researching French music and instruments of the 17th century.

Anja Hufnagel made her Israeli debut with this Barrocade concert. Born in Germany, she studied at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music. Since 1992, Hufnagel has been residing in Berlin, performing, recording and teaching. She has founded early music ensembles – “Isle of Beauty”, “Petite folle”, and “Les Baronnies”, and has won the Berlin “Alte Musik-Treff” (Meeting of Old Music) Award for three years in succession.

Israeli soprano Ye’ela Avital studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, proceeding to the Hochschule fur Musik in Mainz, Germany. A recipient of scholarships and awards, she has performed with many ensembles, in festivals and competitions in Israel and further afield. Her repertoire spans from early- to contemporary music.

Born in Moscow in 1987, Katya Polin immigrated to Israel in 1991. A graduate of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s Outstanding Young Musicians Program, she performs in several Baroque ensembles on both recorder and viola, has won scholarships and prizes and is a keen chamber music player. She is currently studying at the Schola Cantorum in Basel.

Shai Kribus began his studies with piano, recorder and oboe, moving his focus to Baroque instruments. He is presently studying recorder and oboe at the Basel Schola Cantorum, is the recipient of a B’nai B’rith and America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarships and has been chosen to play first oboe with the international orchestra of the Aix-en-Provence Festival (France.)

The concert opened with J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 4, BWV 1049. Presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721, the six Brandenburg Concertos were scored for the instrumentalists Bach had at hand in Cothen. In Concerto no. 4, the violin has a virtuoso role in the outer movements; despite that, Cohen-Akenine puts emphasis on creating delicate textures that allow all melodic strands to emerge naturally. Hufnagel and Polin’s duo recorder playing was well coordinated and lively. The central Andante movement, gently swayed, was poignant, with recorders and violin exchanging comments.

Surviving only because of a copy made by Johannes Rinck in 1730, J.S.Bach’s Wedding Cantata BWV 202 remains a mystery as to when it was composed and for what event; it was supposedly written for a wedding, considering the Bach family tradition of such works. In the Italian cantata style, it consists of arias alternated with secco recitatives. Its beauty lies in the variety of instrumental combinations and in its fine text rich in lush nature descriptions and images of love. It opens on an introspective note (for a wedding cantata) with the vocal line (Ye’ela Avital) intertwining with that of the oboe (Shai Kribus).
‘Give way now, dismal shadows,
Frost and wind, go to rest!
Flora’s delights
Will grant our hearts
Nothing but joyful fortune,
For she comes bearing flowers….’
In the second aria, scored for voice and continuo, the harpsichord (Yizhar Karshon) role describes how “Phoebus hurries with swift horses” with much detailed passagework on the part of the harpsichord. In the third aria, the text is evocative and sensuous, Cohen-Akenine’s beautifully nuanced violin solo eloquently reflecting the words. The fourth aria takes an earthier approach to love, Kribus’s playing of the oboe solo jaunty, his playing exuding joy, humor and ease. With the wedding festivities under way, the final aria takes the form of a sprightly gavotte. Ye’ela Avital’s mellifluous singing tied in well with the work’s aesthetic beauty. Cohen-Akenine and the Barrocade players gave expression to the work’s instrumental interest.

The French composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau wrote “Pygmalion”, an Acte de Ballet, in eight days. It was premiered in Paris in 1748 and quickly became one of Rameau’s greatest “hits”. The story of Pygmalion, who falls in love with the statue he is sculpting, eventually bringing it to life, was the inspiration for this sung and danced work. Consisting of music that is both lively and tenderly lyrical, Cohen-Akenine’s reading of it is stylish, subtle and soave. Poignant moments were created by Genevieve Blanchard (Baroque flute, piccolo) and the versatile, spirited Anja Hufnagel (Baroque flute, piccolo, recorder.) The ensemble performed a selection of instrumental pieces, with Ye’ela Avital singing a recitative and air.

Rameau’s “tragedie-lyrique” opera “Hippolyte et Aricie”, his first opera, was first performed in 1733. A story of unscrupulous love, anguish, jealousy and hellish scenes, Rameau’s setting of it is rich in variety and consistently attractive. Cohen-Akenine, avoiding the storm-, monster- and underworld scenes, led Barrocade in a serious of dances and pieces, fluid in with French grace and delicacy. The Ariette: Rossignols amoureux (Amorous Nightingales) was surely a high point of the evening, with Cohen-Akenine, Blanchard and Avital evoking bird calls with the subtle dynamic inflections closely bound with the French language and subject.
‘Nightingales in love, echo our song
In your sweet warblings…’
In it, Blanchard’s playing was expressive and masterful; Avital’s descriptive melismas were delightfully shaped and well controlled. The suite ended with an earthy Contredanse, reminding us of the lowly origins of many a court dance.

The Barrocade Ensemble, with visiting Patrick Cohen-Akenine, provided its audience with the best of royal entertainment. Cohen-Akenine is inspirational to players and listeners alike, his modest approach being one of a specific instrumental timbre of well-blended sound. Anja Hufnagel’s ebullient personality and freshness of approach added much to the enjoyment of the program. For its encore, the ensemble and Avital swiftly wrenched the audience from the salon of aristocrats to a smoky nightclub to perform their pleasantly jazzy version of Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves” (lyrics: Jacques Prevert.) With that, the scintillating atmosphere of the evening’s German- and French Baroque music had evaporated into thin air, and more the pity.