Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Barrocade Ensemble performs Italian Baroque music at the Khan Theatre, Jerusalem

The Barrocade Ensemble opened its 2011-2012 season with what might be called a “triptych” – three concerts within three days – “Sukkoth of Music and Wine in the Khan”. People attending the festive opening of the new season enjoyed a glass of wine from some of the best Israeli boutique wineries. This writer attended the third program – “La Serva Padrona” October 15th, 2011 at the Khan Theatre (Jerusalem).

Whetting one’s appetite for an evening of late Baroque Italian music, the ten Barrocade instrumentalists opened with Francesco Geminiani’s (1687-1762) Concerto Grosso opus 3, no.3 in E minor (1733). Clearly influenced by the practices of his teacher Corelli, with the concertino playing off the larger ripieno section, also adhering to the pattern of slow-fast-slow movements, the opus 3 collection nevertheless established Geminiani’s own personal style, a style that used more eccentric figurations and more daring harmonies and textures than did that of his teacher and mentor. Geminiani provides ornaments for both slow and fast movements as well as cadenzas, and he recommends the use of much vibrato. With its dense part-writing and small, jagged motifs, the music made for crowd-pleasing concert music in London, where the composer spent much of his working life as a virtuoso violinist, composer and pedagogue. And it is, indeed, fine concert music. With violinist Shlomit Sivan’s articulate leading, the Barrocade performance of the work was both lively and sensible in fast movements and expressive in the slow movements.

An interesting item on the program was Venetian violinist and composer Carlo Tessarini’s (c.1690-c.1767) Concerto for Violin and Strings in G major, opus 1 no.5, from his opus 1 set of 12 violin concertos, accompanied by strings and basso continuo, and first published in Amsterdam (1724). This was the Israeli premiere of the work, a mere 290 years after its composition! Professor Jehoash Hirshberg (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), who, together with Professor Simon McVeigh (Goldsmiths, University of London), researched the subject of the Italian concerto, together publishing a modern score of Tessarini’s “Twelve Violin Concertos Opus 1” (A-E Editions, 2001), gave a brief talk on Tessarini’s life and music. Although a pupil of Corelli, the composer’s concertos were modeled on those of Vivaldi, Tessarini’s 15 years of work at the Ospedaletto in Venice having also taken a similar course to that of Vivaldi. After leaving Venice, Tessarini was then employed at Urbino Cathedral, later working in Paris and London and ending up in Amsterdam. Tessarini’s more than 40 concertos – 36 for violin - feature throughout the composer’s international career. His oeuvre consists exclusively of instrumental music. At the Barrocade concert, Shlomit Sivan was both soloist and orchestral player in Tessarini’s G major Concerto for Violin and Strings, competently showing the audience through the text which juxtaposes ritornello- and solo sections, boasting fast, nervous changes, presenting simple, direct melodies and inviting virtuosic playing. A work of unadulterated joy, it lacks the panache of the Vivaldi- and Corelli concertos.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) opera buffa “La Serva Padrona” (The Servant Turned Mistress), based on a play by Jacopo Angello Nelli, was premiered in Naples in 1733 and has never lost popularity. Only some 45 minutes in length, the opera was originally used as an intermezzo. Almost 300 years later, audiences still enjoy the elements that make up the libretto – a manipulative maidservant (Serpina) and her somewhat dimwitted bachelor employer (Uberto). The original score also calls for a silent manservant (Vespone). In the Barrocade production, however, Vespone (Yehuda Lazarovich) reveals all the undercurrents of the story in playwright Rachel Ezouz’s cleverly written patter of witty, rhyming Hebrew. Lazarovich’s performance is articulate and suitably droll. Soprano Revital Raviv is absolutely cut out for the role of the coquettish and scheming Serpina: her facial expressions and body language address each nuance of the text, her voice delighting the audience in its true and natural quality. Bass-baritone Oded Reich tackles the score well, his superbly rich voice pleasurable, as usual. Considering the plot’s high jinks, frivolity and characterization, I found his playing of Uberto somewhat too reserved. The instrumentalists engaged- and involved their audience in this delectable music, their communicative playing enhanced with precision, involvement and joyousness.

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