Friday, July 15, 2011

The Renaissance 2011 Ensemble hosts viol player Tal Arbel at a concert in Tel Aviv's Felicja Blumental Music Center

The “Renaissance 2011” Vocal Ensemble is a small group of singers whose members come from well-known Israeli choirs. It focuses on genres of music that give personal expression to each voice, in particular, Renaissance music, in which balance between voices and transparency of expression meet. A chamber choir, it is directed by Alon Weber, a graduate of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in orchestral- and choral conducting and whose experience includes the conducting contemporary music. Weber founded the choir three years ago. It has, however, undergone changes. The concert, with the enigmatic title of “Songs -Sacred and Secular – Yehuda Halevi, Corner Ibn Gvirol” was the choir’s first in its current form. Viol-player Tal Arbel was guest artist.

The ensemble performed several a cappella Renaissance works. The evening began with sacred works. English composer John Dowland (1563-1626) composed 13 Psalm settings: “All people that on earth do dwell” appears in “The Whole Booke of Psalmes” (1592) of Thomas Est. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s (c.1526-1594) “Confitebuntue Coeli” - Psalm 89 (For who in the skies can compare with the Lord?) is from his 68 Offertories published in 1593, as is his “Benedicam Dominam - Psalm 16 (I will praise the Lord who counsels me).

Of the ensemble’s secular repertoire, we heard two chansons by Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Pres (c.1450-1521) – “Plusieurs regretz” and “Cueurs désolés”, both of which speak of disappointed love.
The text of “Plusieurs regretz”:
‘A thousand regrets at leaving you
And departing from your loving look.
I feel such great sorrow and grievous pain
That all will see my days are numbered.’
Josquin’s satirical little frottola “El Grillo” (The Cricket) (c.1505) is thought to be a hint to his patron Galeazzo Sforza to pay his musicians. Largely homophonic, it is earthy, humorous and full of double-entendres and word-painting.

The leading composer at the court of Burgundy, Pierre de la Rue (1452-1518) was both prolific and innovative. We heard his “Autant en emporte le vent” (It is as if gone with the wind), composed around 1500.

The ensemble concluded its concert with three chansons by Clément Janequin (c.1486-1668), a priest who composed some 250 chansons, some vividly descriptive, some moving and others outright bawdy.

The “Renaissance 2011” Vocal Ensemble’s repertoire is indeed rich, attractive and challenging. The audience appreciated hearing choir members reading translations of many of the texts into Hebrew. The group would be wise to focus more on a finer blend of sound, a more transparent timbre, better shaped phrasing and more distinctive pronunciation of English and other languages. The vibrato employed by some of the singers can be detrimental to Renaissance intonation. All these pitfalls are typical teething problems encountered by groups starting out on the long and difficult journey into authentic performance of early vocal music.

And to Yehuda Halevi and Ibn Gvirol, the play on words alluding to streets named after the two poets in Tel Aviv. We heard Alon Weber reading texts by both poets.

Viola da gamba player, Tal Arbel, back in Israel, following years of study and performance in Basel and London, performed pieces from the repertoire for bass viol. She opened by talking about the fact that composers of these works were viol players themselves, and that the pieces would have been played in private salons. Arbel opened with English composer Tobias Hume’s (c.1569-1645) “Good Againe”, from “Captain Hume’s Musicall Humors” (1605). Hume’s personal history reads very differently to that of any other composer: a “gentleman” (amateur composer) and a contemporary of Shakespeare, he was a soldier and mercenary, some of whose charming solo pieces tell the story of his colorful life. Following its plucked opening section (Hume was one of the first composers to use that technique on the viol) Arbel allows the pensive course of the piece to unfold, showing its different textures and moods. Monsieur de Sainte Colombe’s (1640-1700) Chaconne offered effective contrasts, Arbel’s intricate passagework gracing a number of the variations. In L’Arabesque” by St. Colombe’s pupil Marin Marais (1656-1728), Arbel brings out the piece’s whimsical, conversational and speech-like character. His “Grande Chaconne” emerges as a kaleidoscope of gestures, sounds and textures. Tal Arbel (b.1978, Tel Aviv) began her musical life as a recorder player, her first viol teacher being Dr. Myrna Herzog. Arbel’s solo recitals include her own musical arrangements, original material and improvisations. Her tone is articulate and refined, if not yet daring. Arbel’s characteristic, intelligent reading into works, her knowledge, musicality and competence promise audiences many more fine viola da gamba performances.

We then heard two English solo songs performed by Noa Zachoval and Tal Arbel. Mezzo-soprano Zachoval’s musical focus is on works of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Together with Arbel, she performed Tobias Hume’s love song “Fain would that I change that note” (1605). Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) “Sweeter than Roses” is a love song of a different kind. Composed for Richard Norton’s tragedy “Pausanius, Betrayer of his Country”, it is a seductive song, volatile in its mood changes and virtuosic in its demands on the singer. Zachoval is convincing in her portrayal of the songs’ temperament and messages, her voice not always anchored and stable in melismatic phrases. Arbel’s accompaniments bristle with interest.

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