Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Israel Early Music Project in "The Joy of Improvization" at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem

March 26th 2011 greeted Jerusalem with one of those idyllic late winter mornings bathed in sunshine, the local bird population in full throat. With this tranquility blotting out the previous week’s pressures, we made our way to the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, to attend “The Magic of Improvisation” a concert performed by the Israel Early Music Project under the direction of Alon Sariel. Welcoming artists and audience, Professor Alexander Tamir mentioned that the Eden-Tamir Center has not made a practice of presenting many early music concerts on authentic instruments, but that there would be more emphasis placed on early music in the center’s next concert season. Alon Sariel talked briefly of the central role of improvisation in Renaissance- and Baroque music, as in the practice of playing divisions over an ostinato bass or taking a well-known song as the basis for instrumental variations.

The concert opened with songs from Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) “Orpheus Britannicus” collection. Published posthumously in two volumes by Henry Playford, many of the songs were originally written for the stage, either as operatic songs or for incidental music. Soprano Anat Edri performed “If music be the food of love, play on” from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”. Orsino, frustrated in his courtship of Countess Olivia, muses that an excess of music might cure his obsession. Backed by ‘cello and lute, Edri follows the text in its emotional fluctuations. Not all words emerge crystal clear; she, however, masters the tricky melismatic passages with aplomb. This was followed by “The Plaint”, a song from the masque in Act V of “The Fairy Queen”, a veritable mini-drama; it was enhanced by a violin solo (Sivann Zelikoff) and word-painting on the part of Edri. In “Hark! The echoing air” (also from “The Fairy Queen”) Edri flitted through the joyful and virtuosic melodic line with agility, her English pronunciation suitably British.

Remaining in England, the ensemble performed two John Dowland (1563-1626) songs. Dowland composed 88 lute songs. Anat Edri and Alon Sariel (archlute) gave a poignant reading of “Come Again” to be followed by “Can she excuse my wrongs”, the latter, in the style of a galliard, possibly referring to the Earl of Devereaux’s stormy relationship with Queen Elizabeth I. In the instrumental version of the song, ‘cellist Talia Erdal contended admirably with the polyphonic nature of the arrangement.

Giulio Caccini (1551-1618), an outstanding singer, who spent most of his life in Florence, was one of the first composers to write the chordally accompanied solo song, as appearing in his collection “Le Nuove Musiche” (The New Music), “new” referring to the fact that his accompaniments were not polyphonic and that certain of the rules of classical polyphony were stretched to enhance the text with “una certa sprezzatura di canto” (a certain noble nonchalance of song). Both volumes of “Le Nuove Musiche” (1602,1614) include explanations as to performance practice, singing techniques, ornaments, etc. We heard Edri and Sariel performing two Caccini love songs. In “Sfogava con le Stelle” (One who was lovesick) Edri presents the vehement suffering of the lovesick man convincingly and spontaneously, with a good dose of Italian melodrama. In the infatuated “Amarylli mia bella” (Amaryllis, my beauty), Sariel is attentive to Edri’s pace and tasteful embellishments, delicately ornamenting the lute part. “Amarylli” was then played on ‘cello and lute. Erdal is a highly expressive musician, using rhythmic flexibility strategically.

And to Renaissance France. “Ma belle si ton ame” (My beautiful one, if your soul) is a courtly song by Gilles Durant de la Bergerie. The strophic chanson was performed by Edri, the ensemble punctuating with interludes between verses. Her singing boasted French elegance and transparency. Born in Alsace, bassoonist, organist and voice teacher Philipp Friedrich Bodecker (1607-1683) was in the employ of the courts of Darmstadt and Durlach, but also spent many years as a church musician. He wrote a treatise on thoroughbass “Manductio nova”. His “Sonata Sopra La Monica”, in the form of a passacaglia and based on “Ma belle si ton ame”, is actually a bassoon sonata. Erdal and Sariel performed it on ‘cello and archlute. A virtuosic work, with the ‘cello soloing in most of the elaborate variations, the audience delighted in playing that was beautifully crafted.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) had more knowhow of the potential of the lute than many other Baroque composers. His two trio sonatas for lute, violin and continuo, commissioned by and dedicated to Count Johann Joseph of Wrtby of Bohemia, were probably composed in the early 1730’s, the Trio Sonata in C major RV.82 being the first. What distinguishes them from many other Baroque works for lute is that here the lute partners the violin, with the ‘cello taking on the continuo role. A work of joy free of emotional complexities, the unpretentious opening Andante sees violin and lute at times doubling, at others with the lute ornamenting sustained violin notes. The Largo is in a minor key, violin and ‘cello accompany the lute in pizzicato. Sariel takes the listener into the realm of magical, filigree melodic lines created on the lute, gracing them with dainty ornaments. The Allegro, restoring the violin-lute partnership, took the listener back to the unadulterated joy of the opening movement.

Violinist Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) is one of the most enigmatic characters of the Italian Baroque. In his treatise “Arte dell’ Arco” of 1714, he wrote of the phenomenon of differential tones, claiming that his students were playing out of tune if two related notes played simultaneously did not produce the “terzo sono” (third note.) He composed over 170 sonatas for violin, the sonata he is best remembered for being his Sonata in G Minor (c.1714), known as “Il trillo del Diavolo” (The Devil’s Trill”). The story behind the work ties in with Tartini’s flamboyant personality: one night, the composer dreamt that the Devil was at the foot of his bed trying to bargain for his soul, so Tartini challenged him to a musical “duel”. According to Tartini, the Devil played “with consummate skill a sonata of such exquisite beauty as surpassed the boldest flight of my imagination”. On waking, the composer sat down to write down the music, creating one of the most virtuosic Baroque works for violin. A sonata da chiesa, we heard violinist Sivann Zelikoff in the solo role (the cadenza she played was written by Fritz Kreisler) with Erdal and Sariel providing the basso continuo. In the opening Larghetto affettuoso, Zelikoff’s playing of the theme and its variations was lyrical and touching, using vibrato to embellish. The ensuing Allegro, a virtuosic movement based on a sharply-profiled subject, is highly decorated. Following a brief cantabile movement, more an interlude than a movement, the Devil appears in the final Allegro assai movement, a piece rife with Italian temperament, tricky trills and drama. Zelikoff performed it with gusto and good taste.

The concert ended with two madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). The first from “Il ballo delle ingrate” (librettist Ottavio Rinuccini), published in his ballet-opera “Ballo of the Ungrateful Ladies”, produced in 1608, is set at the mouth of hell and focuses on the fate of heartless ladies who have declined the attentions of their suitors. Accompanied by Sariel, Edri convincingly lavishes the song with suffering and urgency, Monteverdi’s daring dissonances evident. In “Quel sguardo sdegnosetto”, from Monteverdi’s “Scherzi musicali”, Edri, Sariel and Erdal collaborate to dramatize the feisty text:
‘That scornful little glance
Gleaming and threatening –
That poisonous dart –
Shoots out and strikes my heart.
Charms that have set me on fire,
And have divided me.
Wound me with a glance
Heal me with laughter!’

The IEMP’s young artists make a deep study of works performed; their concerts delight the senses.

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