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.

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