Friday, March 4, 2011

Young members of the Israel Early Music Project perform Baroque works at the Mormon University

The concert of February 27 2011 in the Sunday Evening Classics series of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University) presented “A Baroque Gathering”. It featured members of the Israeli Early Music Project under the direction of conductor, mandolin- and lute player Alon Sariel.

The IEMP, founded in 2006 by a group of music students from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, is dedicated to preserving historical performance of works composed before 1850 and to performing them on period instruments. The ensemble has played in Belgium, Germany and the UK and performs concerts throughout Israel, also devoting concerts to children of disadvantaged backgrounds. The IEMP won the Jerusalem Academy’s chamber music competition in both 2007 and 2008. As most members of the IEMP are presently studying in Europe, they meet in Israel two to four times each year for intensive rehearsals, subsequently to be followed by concert tours.

Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747), from a musical Parisian family, was a progressive composer as regards musical styles and instrumental genres and spent a long and productive career as one of Louis XIV’s favoured musicians. After his retirement from royal service, the 71-year-old composer was encouraged by Prince Carignan of Savoy to write “Les Elemens” (The Elements), a divertissement premiered in 1737, but without its opening movement “Le Cahos” (Chaos). Actually, this first movement was one of the most daring moments of music written at that time, sounding all notes of the d minor scale simultaneously, with each of the elements represented in conflict. Rebel’s full score is lost; a short score consisting of one or two treble lines, figured bass and some indications of scoring is enough to fire the musical imagination of a group such as the IEMP. Sariel and friends chose to open the concert with the suite’s Chaconne, the movement representing the element of fire.

With Alon Sariel in the role of conductor, we then heard soprano Anat Edri in two arias of Cleopatra from Act III of G.F.Handel’s (1685-1759) “Giulio Cesare” (Julius Caesar in Egypt) (1724) – “Piangere la sorte mia (I will lament my fate) and “Da tempeste il legno infranto”. Edri is in full control, yet she is adept at creating and living each change of emotion in these dramatic pieces as she sails effortlessly through melismatic passages, skillfully placing ornaments in key places. Lush, rich and sparkling, these pieces are more than demanding. Edri’s performance of “Da tempeste”, convincing in its tragic, tender and frenzied moments, was another feather in the young singer’s cap.
‘When the ship, broken by storms
Succeeds at last in making it to port,
It no longer knows what it desires.
Thus, the heart, after torments and woes,
Once it recovers its solace,
Is beside itself with bliss….’

We then heard Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto “La Notte” (The Night) no. 2 from his opus 10 collection of six flute concertos published 1729-1730. In 1728, the publisher Le Cene had ordered six concertos for the flute, most of which Vivaldi was able to supply by transcribing earlier recorder concertos. ”La Notte”, the only opus 10 concerto in a minor key (G minor), is unique in a number of ways: it has six movements, two of which have descriptive titles – the second is marked “Fantasmi” (Phantoms), the fifth “Il sonno” (Sleep) - and one of his movements has no solo role. The challenges of the fourth movement probably make it the most difficult to play of opus 10. Recorder player Shir Shemesh, who also plays the medieval fiddle and is presently studying at the Schola Cantorum (Basel), soloed and led articulately, his interpretation proving that Vivaldi was not in for a night’s tranquil, uninterrupted sleep. Shemesh goes for suspense, excitement and virtuosity, his range of dynamics including tempi and rests, the nightmarish and unrelenting “Fantasmi” movement contrasted and soothed by the ethereal, cantabile Largo section, anchored to a pedal point, to which the lute’s (Alon Sariel) gentle arpeggios add sparkle, poignancy and beauty. Shemesh involves his fellow players, inviting them to be very much a part of this brilliant and daring performance.

Positioned well between two Vivaldi works, we heard G. Gabrieli’s (1554/7-1612) Canzona for Three Violins and Basso Continuo. Alon Sariel then soloed in A. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Mandolin in C major. With the ensemble well attuned to the delicacy of the mandolin, the instrument’s solo passages came through clearly and expressively, with Sariel flexing tempi in order to make a point. Sandwiched between two Allegro movements, the Largo’s scoring was even more scaled down, with harpsichord absent and string players playing pizzicato. In this minimal, fragile but crystal clear texture, the listener can enjoy Sariel’s every sensitive, filigree-fine gesture, discovering a whole world of expression within the realm of pianississimo, making for a delightful and polished performance.

The program ended with another two Handel pieces sung by Anat Edri. In Morgana’s triumphant aria “Tornami a vagheggiar” (Return to me to languish) from “Alcina”, Edri and ensemble converse and imitate, she presenting the aria in its joy, her voice blending well as part of the ensemble. In “Lascia ch’io pianga” (Let me weep over my cruel fate) from “Rinaldo”, Almirena, having been abducted by the sorceress Armida and imprisoned in her enchanted palace, stands in a beautiful garden lamenting her captivity. Edri delivers the aria with poise and humility.

Alon Sariel, currently studying at the Hannover Musik Hochschule, is in Israel to direct and perform a number of concerts. In the pleasant ambience of the auditorium of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, listeners enjoyed a well-balanced program in the hands of fine young Baroque artists.

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