Tuesday, January 8, 2013

An all-Bach concert in the Eden-Tamir Center's "Musica Antiqua" series

After a rainfall, the view of the historic village of Ein Kerem on a winter’s morning is always inspiring – green and pastoral, its tranquility and many spires never fail to draw one’s attention. But it is the sight of the glistening, gold, onion-shaped spires of the Gorny Convent that take one’s breath away. Climbing the steps to the Eden-Tamir Music Center, one wants to pause to set eyes on the herbaceous plants thriving in the center’s carefully tended terraced garden.  The occasion was a concert in the Eden-Tamir Music Center’s “Musica Antiqua” series on January 5th 2013, a program of works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) performed by Idit G. Shemer – Baroque flute (traverso),  Netta Ladar – harpsichord, Inbar Navot – viol and countertenor Doron Schleifer.

The concert opened with Netta Ladar’s playing of Chorale Prelude BWV 691 “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” (He who allows dear God to rule him), a miscellaneous chorale transmitted by Bach’s student J.P.Kirnberger, from the Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. Ladar’s performance of the cantabile style piece (often played on the organ), its chorale melody sounding in the soprano, was richly embellished, her playing spontaneous and personal. Ladar also performed Harpsichord Concerto in d minor BWV 974, a reworking of an oboe concerto by mathematician and musician Alessandro Marcello (Benedetto’s brother), one of several examples of the profound impact the transcription of Italian concertos had on Bach stylistically, in terms of compositional thought and his own virtuosity. Marcello, however, was not a composer of the level or influence of Vivaldi (six of whose concertos Bach transcribed). Ladar mentioned the fact that Bach, in arranging (rather than transcribing) this Italian-style, three movement format concerto, probably stemming from his Weimar period, had raised it to a higher level. Ladar’s playing was interesting in its presentation of the piece as a concerto – its solo- and tutti sections expressed clearly in both range and in leaner- and thicker textures. Her reading of the second movement placed emphasis on its grandeur and harmonic twists rather than on a dreamy approach. Her performance of the contrapuntal, joyful Presto was a play of textures and ornaments. Ladar’s competent, intelligent playing is not heard often enough in Israeli concert halls.

Another reworking, this time of his own work, was Bach’s first organ trio sonata BWV 525 (1730), perhaps written for his son Wilhelm Friedemann to help him master his keyboard skills. These trio sonatas were probably played on a pedal harpsichord. We heard Idit Shemer and Netta Ladar performing the Trio Sonata in G major for traverso and harpsichord obbligato from the Waltraud and Gerhard Kirchner transcription. Their performance spoke much of melodiousness, thoughtful collaboration – including much imitation – and careful phrasing.

No arrangement this time, the Sonata in E major for traverso and continuo BWV 1035 was completed in 1741, prior to Bach’s journey to Potsdam to visit his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, now in the employ if Frederick of Prussia. The sonata may have been intended for Michael Gabriel Friedersdorf, a flautist and valet at Frederick’s court, but it could also have been played by the younger Bach together with Frederick, himself a flautist; the manuscript, consisting of the flute part and just the bass line of the keyboard part, survived in Frederick’s library. In general, with the transverse flute’s popularity in 18th century Germany, Bach made use of the instrument in several of his works and had some fine players at hand. With the opening Adagio generously ornamented, Shemer and Ladar played into Bach’s many surprising harmonic- and tonal deviations, Shemer’s playing tender, lyrical and singing. The artists utilized gentle flexing and small pauses to punctuate and lend delicacy and a pastoral feeling to the third movement – a Siciliano. In the faster movements, both leaning towards the galant style, Ladar’s playing was well fleshed out and had much to say. Ladar, speaking to me about collaboration and the enourmous technical difficulties posed by this work, especially for the flute, mentioned that she and Shemer have been playing together since their teens.

Countertenor Doron Schleifer is currently based in Basel, Switzerland, where he regularly performs as a soloist, also with such ensembles as the Schola Cantorum Nürnberg and the all-male “Profeti della Quinta”. In addition to singing, Schleifer is the conductor and director of the Basel Synagogue Choir. In the Eden-Tamir concert, he sang a number of (mostly) sacred arias, beginning with “Betörte Welt” (Deluded world) from J.S.Bach’s Cantata no.94 “Was frag’ ich nach der Welt” (What do I ask of this world), its text denouncing the false pomp and vanity of the material world, a subject possibly prompted by the growing affluence taking over Leipzig society.  What is clear from the score is that the composer must have had the services of a most gifted transverse flute player at St. Thomas’s, the individual- and ornamented flute line weaving across and around the voice  splendidly executed by Shemer. Schleifer’s vocal timbre is full and bright, his presentation inspired by- and directly involved in the musical- and verbal text. This was followed by “Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze” (Open, my whole heart) from Cantata BWV 61 “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" (Now come, savior of the gentiles) of 1714, accompanied by continuo (Navot, Ladar). In “Bete aber auch dabei” (Pray nevertheless also during your vigil) from Cantata BWV 115 “Mache dich, mein Geist bereit” (Make yourself ready, my spirit), its opening displayed appealing interaction between flute and viol (Bach’s original scoring being for the smaller 5-stringed violoncello piccolo). Schleifer’s sensitive, sonorous treatment of the text – indeed, of each word – was supported by cantabile instrumental playing.  “Komm in mein Herzenshaus” (Come into my heart’s house) is the soprano aria from “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God) BWV 80 (1715/6) a chorale cantata based on a text by Luther celebrating Reformation Day. In an especially poignant performance, Inbar Navot’s playing added eloquence, each phrase singing and beautifully shaped. Schleifer addressed the text’s duality, contrasting its tender devotion with its biting end:
‘Come into my heart’s house,
Lord Jesus, my desire!
Drive world and Satan out
And let your image in me renewed sparkle!
Out, repulsive sins of horror!
The alto aria “Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen” (It is well for you, you chosen souls) comes from Cantata BWV 34 “O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe” (O eternal fire, o source of love) and commemorates the first day of Pentecost. Scored for two flutes, two violins, viola, continuo and voice, it was reduced sympathetically by the artists at the Jerusalem concert, creating a totally acceptable and full- yet caressing-sounding reduction of the score, complementing the intimacy of the alto voice with the piece’s gentle, restful yet syncopated phrasing to promote its characteristic peacefulness and  pastoral atmosphere.
Returning to the Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, the artists concluded with the sweet and personal simplicity of “Bist du bei mir” (Be thou with me) BWV 508. The 1725 compilation, a collection providing a glimpse into the domestic music-making of the Bach family, includes works by composers other than Bach. It is supposed that the melody for this aria was  composed by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel.

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