Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rubato Appassionato, two of its members Israelis, record "El Carnaval de Madrid"

“El Carnaval de Madrid” – 18th Century Delights from Spain and the Low Countries” is the title of Rubato Appassionato’s recently issued CD. It was recorded in the Church of Saint Basil, Seville, Spain for the AccoustiCDelicatessen label. Rubato Appassionato was founded in 2000 at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, where all three members were students. The ensemble – Antonia Tejeda (b.Barcelona 1975)-recorders, Eyal Streett (b.Jerusalem 1978)-Baroque bassoon and Sasha Agranov (b. St. Petersburg 1977)-Baroque ‘cello – focuses on Baroque music from Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, England and Spain, also researching forgotten and unknown Spanish and Dutch works. The ensemble has recorded and performed in Holland, Spain and Israel.

The first six works on the disc are dances from manuscripts and collections in the Biblioteca de Cataluña, Barcelona and the Santa Maria de la Geltrú archives – short melodies with or without a bass line.

The opening work is a Corrente and Ballete, played with stylistic and stylish verve, the bassoon and ‘cello furnishing a warm, mellow and solid bass for Antonia Tejeda’s fresh, energetic and easeful playing that is fired with temperament.

In the anonymous ‘El Carnaval de Madrid’ dances, compiled by Joachim Ibarra, the artists create a variety of improvisations using the existent melodies and/or ostinato basses, each piece receiving different treatment, Rubato Appassionato’s polished arrangements always taking into account the folk origins of the dances. In “La turca” (The Turk), Streett reminds us of the non-European origins of this dance association in his evocative, somewhat oriental-sounding ornamented melodic introduction. “La miscellanea” (The Miscellany) presents two alternating dances, bristling with early music features – the bass drone and an early fiddle double-stopping effect, the latter played with pizzazz by Tejeda. Returning to each of the dances offers a new listening experience worth waiting for.

The ensemble plays some anonymous dances from the NMI 41:59 collection from the Nederlands Muziek Institut in The Hague. In a Gigue, based on the Greensleeves theme, the artists use their musical fantasy to create a canvas rich in invention, with the ‘cello plucked to create a lute effect, reflecting the English origins of the theme. Following the Murky, a dance which, according to information accompanying the CD, flourished in Germany from the 1730s (its origins possibly Polish) begins with a curious ‘cello solo to a dotted bassoon accompaniment, the players pay due respect (infused with a touch of humor) to the higher social standing of “De Graven van Holland” (The Counts from Holland). An earthy March takes us back to the village band. Tasteful and economical use of percussion enhances some of the dances.

The anonymous “Sach dels gemechs” (found in the archive of Santa Maria de la Geltrú) is an early, modal bagpipe melody. In typical Rubato Appassionato style, the players’ performance of it is colored variously, the bagpipe drone is ever present, with the melodic line passed from one player to another. To complete the picture, we hear the “piper” filling the air bag prior to the piece and the bag deflating on its conclusion.

Moving into art music, Streett and Agranov perform Dutch composer and violinist Willem de Fesch’s ((1681-1761) Sonata VI in C major from the "Sonates a Deux vioncelles, Bassons ou Violles" (Amsterdam 1725). The title page of the publication makes no mention of the harpsichord but the bass line is a figured bass. Streett's comment regarding the latter is that the 'cello was used then as a harmonic instrument more frequently than we might have thought and that the choice of instrumentation was, in any case, flexible. Agranov and Streett begin by “preluding”, a common improvisational practice “just to feel at home in C major before the piece actually begins” in Eyal Streett’s words. In the Allegro Commodo movement, graced by Streett’s mellifluous playing of the upper line with a gentle inégal sway, Agranov’s elegant bass lines give harmonic support and elegance, agility and virtuosity, never obstructing the lucidity and expressiveness of the performance. Contrasting the poignant Sarabanda Largo, the artists present the Gavotta Allegro with buoyancy and the wink of an eye. The same sense of well-being continues on into the final two Minuettos, in which rhythmic give-and-take lend natural spontaneity to the written note.

The CD ends with a lengthy set of La Folia variations (Partes de Folias) based on those in the Biblioteca de Cataluña, Barcelona. The opening verse of the well-known harmonic-melodic ostinato, played pizzicato on ‘cello, sets an affecting and thoughtful atmosphere, the starting point from which the artists explore the large gamut of moods offered by the music, creating countermelodies and transitions as they go. Exploiting the very many techniques, timbres, combinations and possibilities of their instruments and their own invention, the players pace verse beginnings and endings sensitively; the music’s message here (the players avoiding the reckless speeds and cold acrobatics commonly heard in many performances of La Folia variations) is that the La Folia subject is not just sheer folly, that it has a noble side to it.

The beauty and depth of Rubato Appassionato’s performance can not be attributed solely to the artists’ knowledge of style, superb technique and intonation; it emanates from their natural aptitude at improvisation, their expressiveness, fine-tuned listening and a rare sense of teamwork. Their sound quality is one of the rare treats heard in today’s performance of early music.

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