Monday, December 17, 2012

Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra - all-Bach concert

Being a member of the board of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra had little to do with this writer’s fascination by the JBO’s recent concert “When Bach Met Vivaldi” December 8th 2012 in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. The truth is that J.S.Bach never did meet Vivaldi, but he did study his works closely, copying them, learning his compositional techniques and making keyboard arrangements of several of Vivaldi’s violin concertos.

This was a concert of works by J.S.Bach; although it would probably not have been referred to by Bach as a “harpsichord concert” it featured the harpsichord in a big way, but not just. Four harpsichords, tail-to-tail, graced the right side of the stage, with the JBO string players seated to the left. The concert opened with Bach’s Concerto in d minor for three harpsichords, BWV 1063, the harpsichord roles played by Noam Krieger (Israel/Holland), Yizhar Karshon and David Shemer - founder and musical director of the JBO. As to the work, scholars are not sure whether the original form, presumably scored for three violins, should be attributed to Bach or to an unknown composer. It is presumed that Bach wanted to give his two eldest sons – Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel - the opportunity to join him in playing the harpsichord parts in concert before they left home. The JBO’s performance was articulate in presenting the work’s rich chromatics and intensifying processes. In the second movement – a Siciliana –interest created by violinist Dafna Ravid’s solo, Noam Schuss’s ornate violin section and ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi’s poetic playing added to the movement’s huge variety of tonalities, thus providing an unusually wide vista of sound. The third movement’s energy was highlighted by precision and articulacy, this in no way ruling out a sense of improvisational fantasy on the part of the harpsichordists.

In J.S.Bach’s Concerto in a minor for flute, violin, harpsichord and strings, BWV 1044 (c.1730), the first and third movements are transcriptions of Bach’s harpsichord Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BWV 894, with the middle movement taken from his Trio Sonata no.3 for organ, BWV 527, both reworkings showing a fair amount of freedom.  Soloists in the triple concerto were flautist Idit G. Shemer, violinist Noam Schuss and David Shemer. David Shemer’s light and playful treatment of the demanding harpsichord role was balanced and contrasted by Noam Schuss’s pleasing, compelling and musically convincing performance of the violin solo together with the glow and subtle beauty of the Baroque flute at the hands of Idit Shemer. This was followed by the Concerto in d minor for two violins BWV 1043, presumably written originally to be played by the two principal violinists of the orchestra of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, where Bach served as Kapellmeister. Soloists at the JBO concert were Noam Schuss and Dafna Ravid, whose buoyant-, flexible- and exciting playing presented the work in idiomatic, violinistic terms while staying well clear of showcase acrobatics and madcap tempi. In the poignant second movement – Largo ma non tanto – they overlapped and imitated with eloquence and a measure of intensity, delighting with a touch of inégalité, their communication with each other clearly that of artists of long collaboration.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no.5, BWV 1050 is scored for flute, solo violin, obbligato harpsichord and strings; the harpsichord, no longer in the supportive role of a continuo instrument, provides the unifying timbre. Possibly the first time as soloist, the harpsichordist is, indeed, a virtuoso soloist. Soloists were Idit Shemer, Dafna Ravid and Maestro David Shemer. Opening with a burst of energy, the first movement (the longest of all movements of the Brandenburg Concertos) offered well-delineated, fresh playing, Bach’s mysterious harmonic progressions coming to the fore; Ravid and Idit  Shemer provided a finely woven musical dialogue, with the harpsichord gradually taking over, spinning into a 65-bar cadenza: building up over a long pedal point, Bach opens his textbook of keyboard figurations, large leaps and what keyboard technique it might offer the player on a two-manual harpsichord. In the Affetuoso movement, David Shemer, Dafna Ravid and Idit Shemer gave expression to Bach at his most personal, the movement’s tender, intimate mood spiced with dissonances, some pleasing ornaments and varied textures.  The JBO players were light-of-foot in the Allegro (Gigue), their tempo giving a sense of well-being.

Some 20 years following Bach’s organ transcriptions of Vivaldi’s opus 3 violin concertos of 1711 “L’Estro armonico” (The Harmonic Whim), Bach returned to this collection of Vivaldi, in a faithful transcription, converting Vivaldi’s Concerto in b minor for four violins, strings and continuo opus 3/10, RV 580 into his own Concerto in a minor for four harpsichords and strings, BWV 1065. It would have been created to be played by Bach himself with his three eldest sons Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Gottfried Bernhard, performing to the coffee-drinking, tobacco-smoking clientele at the weekly Collegium Musicum concert at Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig. Harpsichordists Marina Minkin, Noam Krieger, Yizhar Karshon and David Shemer joined to celebrate Bach’s homage to Vivaldi – one of the greatest rule-givers of the concerto - who had served as a model and inspiration for his own development as a composer. It goes without saying that presenting this unique work in today’s concert halls never fails to make a splash! The four soloists, in constant eye (and smile) contact with each other, provided lively interaction with the string ritornelli of the outer movements. The middle movement – Largo – took the listener through a lengthy harmonic development, its heavy dotted rhythms crisply played, each harpsichord then producing a different kind of arpeggio. (Was Bach checking to see if the Zimmermann café-sitters were listening attentively?) What is so exciting about the work is that whirling storm of harpsichord timbres, so rich in auditory fibre and daringly forward-looking in its suggestion of clusters . The JBO concert’s keyboard players, however, together in coordination between solo parts, each displayed enough of a sense of freedom to create their own embellishments – trills, runs and other solistic devices – keeping the personal element and the experience of the concerto grosso.

This was a concert of highlights - certainly no mean feat. Kudos to Maestro Shemer for pulling all the threads together and for negotiating the lion's share of harpsichord solos.

1 comment:

city said...

thanks for share.