Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jerusalem Baroque Soloists at the Mormon University, Jerusalem

Georg Philipp Telemann

As dusk was settling over the panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem on July 29th 2012, people were entering the auditorium of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies to attend a concert performed by a group calling itself the Jerusalem Baroque Soloists. Those taking part, all soloists and members of various ensembles, were Uri Dror-recorder, Yigal Kaminka-oboe, Alexander Fine-bassoon and David Shemer-harpsichord.

The program opened with G.P.Telemann’s (1681-1767) Trio Sonata in C minor from “Essercizii Musici” for recorder, oboe and basso continuo. The “Essercizii Musici” (c.1739), a collection of 24 pieces, constitutes one of the most accomplished chamber music anthologies of the high Baroque. The title is somewhat enigmatic: the trio sonata we heard was certainly no instrumental etude, rather an indication of the key role Telemann was playing in the evolution leading to the homogeneous string quartet. With much noble (and some virtuosic) communication between recorder and oboe, the continuo’s underpinning gently swayed, the Jerusalem Baroque Soloists brought out Telemann’s fine individual writing for each instrument, the artists presenting his ingeniousness and uncontrived manner in a kaleidoscope of sumptuous timbres.

German oboist, organist and composer Johann Ernst Galliard (1687-1749) played in the chamber ensemble of George, Prince of Denmark, moving to London in 1706 to become chapel-master of Somerset House. A familiar face in London high society, he participated in the founding of the Academy of Ancient Music. He wrote music to plays, masques, pantomimes and cantatas and is thought to be the author of an outspoken literary work criticizing English opera and other music. Sonata no.3 in F major for bassoon (or ‘cello) and basso continuo, performed by Fine and Shemer, clearly seems geared to the four-keyed late Baroque bassoon. A challenging and entertaining work, Fine, playing on a replica Baroque bassoon built 1999, took cues from Shemer’s reading of the thorough bass, displaying the instrument’s full range, its lush, singing quality, his gregarious, richly colored playing juggling the many whimsical leaps and musical conversations with the wink of an eye.

The ensemble performed Antonio Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in G minor RV103 for flute (recorder), oboe, bassoon and continuo, the work sometimes referred to as a chamber concerto. The opening Allegro ma cantabile is frequently performed at breakneck speed…not here, thankfully. In the opening, Vivaldi had redeployed the basic melody “Amor sprezzato” (Love spurned) of an indignant castrato aria from a failed opera, but here Uri Dror’s extended solo episodes were woven in with poetic melodiousness and technical competence, tempered by gentle dissonances, enabling him to engage in dainty ornamentation. The tender Largo, placed over the bassoon’s walking bass, saw sympathetic collaboration between upper instruments both alternating, then contrapuntally paired, offering Shemer the opportunity to infuse some ideas of his own into the contonuo harpsichord role. With oboe and flute reversing roles before resolving into harmonic sequences, all collaborated in the delightful lightness and virtuosity of the Allegro non molto, its slightly queasy descending figure an off-beat characteristic of the movement.

On a replica of a 1750 Flemish harpsichord, built by Klop in 1983, David Shemer played two Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, both from among Scarlatti’s really feisty miniature sonatas. Shemer kept his audience entertained, and, indeed, on their toes, in the K.124 Sonata in G major, its major-minor shifts as unpredictable as its chains of harmonies and the pauses separating them, Shemer’s virtuosity bantering with Scarlatti’s invitation to indulge in freedom and folly. Also in the key of G major, the K.125 Sonata is marked “Vivo”; this seems almost an understatement! Shemer’s performance of this piece underlined the experimental- and experiential aspects of Scarlatti’s oeuvre, its Spanish influence and his daring use of dissonances. Not to be soft-pedaled (excuse the pun) on the modern piano, Shemer reminds us that this is harpsichord music in the raw, written by a composer who, himself, was likened to “ten hundred devils” when at the keyboard.

Of the two musician cousins of the same name, Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, members of a Flemish dynasty of performers and composers from Ghent, the elder, a performer and composer, made his career in London, becoming known as John Loeillet of London. He played a leading role in the city’s musical life and introduced Corelli’s works to the English. The Jerusalem Baroque Soloists performed his Trio Sonata no.6 opus 2 in C minor, presenting the elegant music with a sparing choice of ornaments, gently leaning into its dissonances, its virtuosic moments on recorder and oboe indicative of the fact that John of London was a master on both instruments.

Rounding off the program, the ensemble performed Telemann’s Trio Sonata in G minor TWV 42:g9 (composed 1726-1730), its concise proportions, nevertheless, bearing witness to 18th century modernity and the fact that Telemann had a sense of what the public wanted to hear, staying abreast with the latest fashions in the world of music. In the form of an agile, social dialogue, the Jerusalem Baroque Soloists recreated Telemann’s own courtly style (with the hint of a folk dance), their playing unmannered, tasteful and handled with a light touch.

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