Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Barrocade Ensemble and Shahar Choir collaborate in an evening of Italian Baroque music

The Barrocade Ensemble, Israeli Baroque Collective (musical director Amit Tiefenbrunn), collaborated with the Shahar Choir (director Gila Brill) in a concert celebrating the “Glory of Italian Liturgy”. This writer was present at the well-attended concert in St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church (Jerusalem) May 12th, 2011.

Founded in 2007 by a group of enthusiastic Baroque music specialists, Barrocade – consisting today of some twelve artists - performs mostly without a conductor and is known for its forthright signature sound, its rich continuo section, the latter creating a suitable environment for its bright soprano instruments. The ensemble performs much Renaissance- and Baroque music, venturing into the fields of folk music, modern works and jazz. In rehearsals, all members contribute their own ideas and opinions as to the performance of each work. Barrocade is supported by the Music Department of the Culture Administration of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.

The Shahar Choir was founded by Gila Brill in 1994 and continues to be directed and conducted by her. The choir, characterized by its clean, fresh choral sound, meets in Rehovot and focuses much on Baroque music, also including other styles in its repertoire. The Shahar Choir performs widely in Israel, presenting a cappella music, but also sings with local instrumental ensembles. The Shahar Choir is supported by the Rehovot Culture Fund, the Rehovot Municipality and the Music Department of the Culture Administration of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.

The concert opened with Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) “Stabat Mater”. The work, a setting of the sequence for the Feast of Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was written during Pergolesi’s last months, these spent at the Franciscan Monastery in Pozzuoli. What is clear is that the ailing composer (probably suffering from tuberculosis) was not expecting to recover and the “Stabat Mater” is possibly the last work written by Pergolesi before his death at age 26. Consisting of 12 sections, Pergolesi’s setting to the somber text is enigmatically lush and bitter-sweet. In the opening choral movements (referred to by Rousseau as “the most perfect and most touching to have come from the pen of any musician”) the Shahar singers (women only) got off to a somewhat staid start, with high soprano notes not quite “covered”; however, by “Fac ut ardeat cor meam” (Grant that my heart may burn) their creamy timbre and careful dynamics came to the fore. The choice of soloists - soprano Revital Raviv and alto David Feldman - could not have been better! Raviv’s singing is delightfully spontaneous, stable and energetic; she is convincing and gripping, singing into the text and its emotions. In “Cuius animam gementem” (Through her weeping soul, compassionate and grieving, a sword passed.) Raviv outlines the dramatic character of the words, expressing compassion in “Vidit sum dulcum natum” (She saw her sweet Son dying, forsaken, while he gave up His spirit). David Feldman is an inspiring artist. He weaves his voice into and around the text, his ease, agility and spontaneity matched by the rich timbre and “depth” of his voice. He chisels his phrases well and is constantly aware of the instrumental score. In their duets, Raviv and Feldman went for superb blending, word painting and tasteful ornamentation. Barrocade’s precise playing brought out the chromatic tensions of Pergolesi’s writing as well as its tenderness, never falling into the pitfalls of so many over-Romantic interpretations of the work. Shlomit Sivan is a strong, articulate leader.

After intermission, the Barrocade Ensemble performed Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso opus 6/4. The six opus 6 concertos, six “da camera” and six “da chiesa”, not published during the composer’s lifetime, nevertheless became some of the most famous pieces of the time. They remain wonderful concert pieces due to their powerful bass scoring, their rich contrapuntal textures and performance options. Concerto no. 4 in D major is a concerto da chiesa, reserved and eloquent, but not lacking Italianiate virtuosic flair. With violinists Shlomit Sivan and Yasuko Hirata seated at the front of the stage, the audience was constantly aware of interaction between them and of the concertino role in particular, their seamless reading of the work not void of individuality. Bright, fresh and audience-friendly, Barrocade’s presentation of the work was neither dizzily flamboyant nor conservatively heavy, but glowing in majesty and joie-de-vivre, the dynamic layers, tempi and timbres of strings, theorbo and harpsichord of the ripieno collaborating and contrasting with those of the soloists.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) spent most of his professional life teaching and composing for the students of the Ospedale della Pieta, one of the four orphanages for girls in Venice, all known for their high standard of music. (The Ospedali were, in fact, homes for illegitimate female offspring of noblemen and their mistresses.) Vivaldi was given the job of “Maestro di Violino” at the school, only later taking the position of “Maestro di Coro” to fill in for a tutor who had taken ill. It was during the time he filled the latter post that he wrote sacred choral music, performed by the girls in screened-off galleries. It is, however, difficult to pin a date to the “Gloria”. What we do know is that this (and another Gloria) fell into obscurity for 200 years. Vivaldi’s Gloria for Soloists, Chorus, Orchestra and Basso Continuo RV 589 would have been well liked in Venice of the time, its theatrical quality appealing to the Venetian public and to the many people visiting the city. The Shahar Choir and Barrocade performed the D major opening “Gloria” in all its joy and fanfares, its trumpet and oboe “comments” coloring the movement with festive gleam. Brill uses textures and detached notes to articulate certain words in the text, underlying dance motifs and dance rhythms used by the composer. In the third movement (Laudamus te), Raviv engages with choir member soprano Sivan Trajtenberg in the florid intertwining of lines spiced with suspensions. In the sixth movement (Domine Deus) Raviv and oboist Amir Bakman create a duet graced with creamy stability, expressiveness and elegance. Feldman’s sensitive and subtly ornamented singing of the “Domine Deus”, accompanied only by continuo and interpolated with choral comments, represented the intimate pleas of man. The tenth movement, an enigmatic piece, refers to sins and pity, with Vivaldi, however, clothing the words in buoyant dance rhythms. In it, Feldman plays skillfully with sounds and words:
‘Who sit at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.’
Gila Brill led the Shahar Choir and Barrocade in a performance that addressed the work’s contrapuntal detail in a vital and immediate manner. The triumphant, fugal last movement, bristling with imitations, majesty and lively in its fine wind playing, brought the concert to a joyful, triumphant end.

This was a well-balanced program. Italian music stirs the soul!

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