Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Barrocade Ensemble in "The Renaissance of Flamenco"

Inclement weather did not prevent people from attending concert no.3 of the Barrocade Ensemble’s 1011-2012 season at the Jerusalem Khan Theatre February 29th 2012. Barrocade’s musical director Amit Tiefenbrunn spoke of “The Renaissance of Flamenco” as being a different kind of concert, using period instruments and others to evoke the music of Spain - a location that was the meeting-place of Christians, Jews, Arabs and Gypsies. Soloists were Hezy Levy-voice and guitar, Eyal Leber-vihuela and Flamenco guitar, Jacob Reuven -mandolin and Flamenco dancer Shir Cante Hirsch-Behar.

Not coincidentally, much of the evening’s music centered on music played on guitars and other plucked instruments, the boundaries between classical- and traditional music being unclear and, indeed, irrelevant. For example, Gaspar Sanz (mid-17th century-early18th), a man of literature, religion and music – pedagogue, organist and guitarist – was influenced by Spanish popular dances and those he had heard in Naples, where he was organist to the Spanish viceroy. Barrocade opened its concert with Sanz’ “Canarios” a lively, syncopated dance from the Canary Islands featuring jumps and stomping feet. In “Three Ricercadas for Viola da Gamba” by Diego Ortiz (c1510-c1570), with Amit Tiefenbrunn playing solo soprano viol, the audience enjoyed delicate but lively ensemble playing, Eyal Luman’s understated use of percussion (also using the cajón, meaning big box, on which he was seated) and a look into the improvisatory “viola bastarda” (single melody style) style, of which Ortiz was an initiator. In another Barrocade arrangement, the players took a work of Italian composer and choreographer Cesare Negri (c.1535-1604), employed by the Spanish Hapsburgs of Milan, the familiar and fragile “Il bianco fiore” (The White Flower), presenting it first on plucked instruments, later to be joined by bowed instruments and percussion.

Italian ‘cello virtuoso and prolific composer Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) spent most of his life in Madrid. His Quintet no.4 for Guitar and Strings (he composed more than 100 quintets), commissioned by the guitar-playing Marquis de Benavente for private chamber music events in Madrid, reflects Boccherini’s connection with locally-flavored music; the Fandango, an old Spanish courtship dance in triple time, was danced by a couple to guitar and castanets. Presenting a slice of 18th century Spanish life, we heard Eyal Leber playing the solo guitar part on a guitar especially built for him by Yaron Naor, Luman’s polished percussion-playing evoking the sound of castanets. If Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) had expressed the guitar of his native Spain through the piano, Barrocade’s arrangement of the Malageña from Albéniz’s piano work “España” opus 165 used plucked instruments to evoke the energy of the dance music of Spain. Jacob Reuven’s solos here and throughout the evening provided moments of true magic, his refined and subtle nuancing always a delight to the senses.

The “La Folia” bass pattern (for improvised dance music), used most prolifically for countless sets of variations, was given a new twist by the Barrocade musicians: they took the beginning of Gaspar Sanz’ solo guitar version and merged it with the last movement of A.Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata opus1 no.12, RV 63. Eyal Leber began the work on guitar, other plucked instruments joining (also pizzicato on violins), building up to a fiery conclusion. An interesting timbre was created by mandolin (Reuven) doubling arco violins (Shlomit Sivan, Yasuko Hirata).
Singer and guitarist Hezy Levy introduced the audience to some interesting, little-known repertoire. Take Fernando Sor’s Seguidillas (a Castillian poem often set to music and danced) which are, according to Levy, either arrangements of folk material or Sor’s own pieces. Sor’s seguidillas, most of the twelve being in triple time, are related to dance (the bolero) but also exist independently of it. The poetic form, potent in its brevity, uses a strict metrical form and traditional imagery. Prior to Levy’s performance of three of them, we heard translations of the texts into Hebrew, with the artist reminding listeners that the verbal text of each of the miniatures carries one of life’s painful lessons! Accompanied by guitars, colascione lute (Tiefenbrunn was playing on one he had built) and bass viol, Levy’s warm, caressing tenor voice, superb diction and well-crafted phrasing, tinted with Spanish heart-on-sleeve emotion, made for a sensitive and delightfully convincing performance. The third seguidilla translated:
‘Women and guitar strings: you need to tune them.
If they are slack they do not sound.
And as to the many, if you tighten them too much, they break.’
Neapolitan composer Federico Moretti (1765-1838), who lived in Spain, was highly regarded by Sor. We heard Levy once more bewailing the problems of love in ‘La Irresolucion”, from “Doce Canciones” (Twelve Songs), his singing supported by the finely shaped playing of plucked instruments only.

Hezy Levy concluded with three Ladino songs from a tradition stemming mostly from Turkey. His own emotional involvement in the genre was infectious. In a Sabbath song sung in both Ladino and Hebrew, Shlomit Sivan played an amply ornamented verse, the art of embellishment slipping effortlessly off her bow onto the violin strings. Altogether, the audience was moved by Hezy Levy’s in-depth understanding of repertoire, his fine guitar-playing and mellifluous singing.

Joining the instrumentalists was Flamenco dancer Shir Cante Hirsch-Behar, dancing to Albéniz’ “Asturias”, to music from Manuel de Falla’s “La vida breve” (Life is short) and a traditional “Sevillianas” (an exciting style of song and dance originating in Castile, not in Seville). Hirsch-Behar’s stage personality is as riveting as her skill in dance, her rhythmic precision and hand-in-glove collaboration with the players no less impressive. Initially dressed in black, later in white and finally in fiery red, she set before the audience the spontaneity of personal improvisation, the unleashing of unspoken mysterious forces and the passion and drama of the Spanish tradition of Flamenco dance.

The concert, the result of creative ideas and much work, was one of interest, enjoyment and fine performance.

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