Friday, May 27, 2011

Ensemble Mezzo performs at the Redeemer Church in Jerusalem's Old City

Having descended several steps from the Jaffa Gate, past the colorful shops of Jerusalem’s Old City market, one turns right into the Muristan area of the Christian Quarter and, leaving behind the noise of the vendors closing and shuttering their stores, one enters the tranquility of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. The occasion was the recital of recorder player Doret Florentin and organist Assif Am-David - Ensemble Mezzo – on May 21st 2011.

Doret Florentin, a native of Thessaloniki (Greece), studied recorder in Greece, at Tel Aviv University, and at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. She also holds a B.A. in Mathematics and Statistics. Florentin is now also playing the early bassoon. She performs widely in Europe, teaches in Tel Aviv and is a founding member of the “Me La Amargates Tu” Ensemble, a group researching and performing Sephardic- and Spanish music of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. At this concert, Doret was playing on a G.Klemisch Baroque recorder and on two Genassi-fingering instruments made by Yoav Ran (Israel).

Assif Am-David (b.1981, Tel Aviv) started his musical training as a pianist, also moving into the field of early music as a singer and harpsichordist. After completing a B.Mus. degree in voice and conducting at Tel Aviv University, Am-David went to Freiburg in Breisgau (Germany) to complete a diploma in harpsichord. It was there that he also studied organ. Playing and singing in several early music ensembles and other groups, he is also a tutor at the Early Music Workshop of the Jerusalem Music Centre. Am-David is currently working on a dissertation in Linguistics.

The concert opened with virtuoso Venetian cornettist Girolamo Dalla Casa’s suggestions as to ornamenting Franco-Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon’s (c.1505-1557) chanson “Petite fleur coincte et jolye”. Dalla Casa’s 1584 treatise “Il Vero Modo di diminuir con tutte le sorti di stromenti di fiato, e corda, e di voce humana…” (The correct way of playing divisions on all types of wind and stringed instruments, and with the human voice…) Florentin and Am-David pace the work together at a tranquil pace, Florentin, however embellishing the melody profusely, the general effect creating an exciting yet clean texture, this enhanced by a pleasing balance between the instruments.

Playing on the Redeemer Church’s organ (21 registers, two manuals and pedal) built by Karl Schuke (Berlin) in 1971, Assif Am-David presented “Sei Gagliardi” (Six galliards) by Girolamo Frescobaldi. (1583-1643). Assif’s playing of the dances was tasteful, brighter registers never over-strident, contrasts achieved in various timbres, tempi and small pauses, resulting in the composer’s personal style coming across transparent and exuberant.

Then to Frescobaldi’s daring “Cento Partite sopra Passacagli” (One Hundred Variations on the Passacagli), a work reminding us that the composer was not only a skilled improviser but also an experimenter in modulation and enharmonic chromaticism! Frescobaldi stipulated that “the manner of playing ought not to be subject to a beat, just as we have it in today’s madrigals”. Am-David, not to be side-tracked by Frescobaldi’s audacity, is always in control, presenting the dazzling piece to his listeners with a sympathetic mix of registers, negotiating the musical plan with subtlety and elegance.

Nothing is known about the Venetian instrumental composer Dario Castello (c.1590-c.1568) himself. In fact, it has even been suggested that “Castello” was a pseudonym, despite its being a name common in Venice. Castello’s compositions, however, were and continue to be popular, suggesting that he was among the leading instrumental composers of the early seventeenth century; his works require technical proficiency rarely found among those of his contemporaries. His first volume of “Sonate Concertate” appeared in Venice in 1621, a second in 1629. We heard Sonata Seconda, from the latter collection, played on soprano recorder and organ. Weaving the small contrasted sections featuring virtuoso solo sections (recorder) into concertante exchanges and back again, Florentin’s playing was fresh and interesting, creative in its embellishments and attentive to dissonances, with Am-David sensitive to the nuances of each section.

An Italian composer of mostly sacred music, Paolo Benedetto Bellinzani (c.1690-1757), little known today, but, in his time, known all over Italy for pushing the requirements of recorder playing to a higher level and for the quantity and quality of his works, was one of the many composers to write variations to the 8-bar ground of the Portuguese dance melody ostinato “La Follia”, along with A.Scarlatti, Corelli, C.P.E.Bach, Kapsberger and Lully, to mention a few. This concert was a fine opportunity to hear Bellinzani’s “La Follia” Variations opus 3 (1720), a work not often heard, with both artists exploring the moods, colors, technical- and textural ideas of the divisions, and not all allotted exclusively to the recorder role. Florentin tackled the technical feats of fast arpeggiation, voicing within textures, rhetorical- and intimate moments, both artists providing contrasts between divisions.

Doret Florentin left the organ loft to perform J.S.Bach’s Partita for Solo Flute BWV 1013 from the front of the church. A unique work, Bach’s other suites for solo instruments are for stringed instruments. Not being a flautist, Bach was left to his own ingenuity in producing this superb suite using dances popular at the time. Florentin’s performance of it, bringing out the work’s implied counterpoint and harmonic references via its daring leaps and chromaticism, was expressive, delicate and profound, the final Bourree anglais light and playful. Taking into account the acoustic of the church, Florentin paced each movement strategically, presenting the High Baroque charm and beauty of the Partita to her audience.

The concert ended with J.S.Bach’s Sonata for Flute and Keyboard BWV 1030. Thought to have been composed some time between 1720 and 1741, it is one of three sonatas (1030-1032) to which the composer wrote out the right hand of the keyboard part in full. Originally composed G minor, Bach transposed it to B minor for the transverse flute. Which was then taking over from the recorder; the solo sonata is played in C minor on the recorder. Opening with the expansive, singing first movement, Florentin and Am-David expressed the work’s solemn and aristocratic character as well as its energy.

Despite the Redeemer Church’s welcoming acoustic, performing in a church is no small order when it comes to articulacy, good taste and balance. Florentin and Am-David make it seem easy! This was surely one of the most delightful and pleasurable Baroque concerts of the season. Unfortunately, the recital was not publicized in the local press. For the sake of those music-lovers who missed it, the concert really should be performed again. Not to be missed!

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