Saturday, April 6, 2013

In Mixto Genere performs "Con amore" at the Eden-Tamir Music Center

“Con amore” – music of the 17th and 18th centuries on the subject of love - was one of the events of the Eden-Tamir Center’s 2013 Passover Festival in the idyllic village of Ein Kerem, Jerusalem on March 30th.  The concert was performed by members of the In Mixto Genere Ensemble – Anna Ioffe-Baroque violin and viola d’amore, Alina Keitlin-Baroque violin and Natalie Rotenberg-harpsichord. The artists performed on period instruments, the least mainstream of them being the viola d’amore, an alto Baroque instrument similar to the viol but unfretted and held under the chin.  Mixto Genere was established in 2004. All three members are graduates of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; all have specialized in the playing of early- and modern instruments, all are soloists and truly versatile artists.  Anna Ioffe is a soprano singer,  arranges works and plays Baroque and modern violin and viola d’amore; Natalie Rotenberg is a soprano, a composer, plays piano, positive (organ) and harpsichord; Alina Keitlin is a mezzo-soprano and composer, plays Baroque violin, modern violin and viola.  In a repertoire ranging from early- to contemporary music, the ensemble performs in concerts, opera productions and in major festivals in Israel and abroad and has had works written for it.

Anna Ioffe explained that the viola d’amore she plays has seven playing strings and seven sympathetic strings. The beautifully carved figure on the head of her viola d’amore is Amor (god of love) blindfolded, representing love, which is blind. With flexible tuning, this instrument was tuned to a D major chord for the purpose of the music played. This  instrument was built by the Czech violin-maker Vaclav Svoboda in 2001. Ioffe received her first lessons from the renowned Czech viola d’amore player Jaroslav Horak, later receiving a master’s degree in Baroque violin and viola d’amore under the guidance of Daniel Fradkin.

Of the several works scored for the viola d’amore, the program included two pieces by Attilio Ariosti (1666-1740) (Ariosti himself was a virtuoso player of the viola d’amore) opening with the aria “Pur alfin gentil viola” (So at last, gentle Viola), from a cantata of around 1690 of the same title for solo voice, viola d’amore and basso continuo, possibly one of the first works written for the viola d’amore. In the text, the constant violet prevails over the proud and haughty rose, the violet being an association (and play-on-words) with the viola d’amore. In the present setting, with the violin (Keitlin) taking on the role of the singer, the aria was presented in richly crafted, mellifluous and unmannered playing. In Ariosti’s Sonata in G from volume 3 of his Stockholm Sonatas, the artists brought out the music’s characteristic contrasts, energy and humor.  Louis de Caix d’Hervelois’ (c.1670-1759) typically French character pieces “La gracieuse” and “L’inconstant” (arranged for viola d’amore and b.c.) from his “Pièces de voile”(Pieces for Viol) were given a sympathetic reading, vibrato used sparingly and only in the name of embellishment, the viola d’amore’s true, beguiling  and sweet-sounding appeal saying all. 

Remaining in France, we heard François Couperin’s (1668-1733) “Ritratto dell’Amore” (Portrait of Love) from the “Concerts royaux” (Paris, 1722) performed by Alina Keitlin and Natalie Rotenberg. As would have been the practice at Louis XIV’s Sunday chamber music concerts, Keitlin announced each movement in turn; several of the work’s movements bear names that are whimsical, for court music is to be both entertaining and witty. In playing that was carefully nuanced, at times majestic, at times coquettish, the artists presented the music with the wink of an eye, their tempi never overstepping the boundaries of good taste. From Couperin’s “L’art de toucher le Clavecin” (The Art of Playing the Harpsichord) Rotenberg performed “La Favorite” (The Favored One), a rondeau-chaconne (however, not in triple time), the title referring to Madame de Maintenon, who had secretly married the king. Rotenberg’s playing of the piece is energetic, directional and engaging, yet addressing its noble, grand and solemn aspects. On hearing Michel Corrette’s (1707-1795) Sonata no.2 “Dans le goût italien” (In Italian taste) one is reminded of the fact that the composer had compiled two important books on violin playing – “The Art of Playing the Violin Perfectly” and “The School of Orpheus” (a violin treatise focusing on French and Italian styles.) Keitlin and Ioffe gave a well coordinated performance of this fine piece of writing, concluding the section of French works on the program.

Love in the professional life of German composer and trombonist Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684) led to his scandalous arrest and imprisonment in 1655; managing to escape, however, he made his way to Venice, where he realized the synthesis of German and Italian instrumental styles. Hearing his Sonata prima in g minor for two violins and basso continuo brought home the importance of this towering figure of the German Baroque, a composer not heard frequently enough in our concert halls.   

If love is folly, that would more than justify the artists’ playing of  Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Trio Sonata in d minor “La Follia” opus 1 no.12 (1705), the sonata consisting of a theme and 19 variations. Following the composer’s strategic building up of speed and virtuosity, retreating into calmer moods, a Siciliano rhythm and Vivaldi-concerto-type moments, the performance abounded in interest, contrasts, vivacity and delicate passagework, its florid, brilliant moments never a substitute for expressiveness. Two other works performed, also composed to ostinato (ground) basses, were a Passacaglia by the famed Italian lutenist and chitarrone player Antonio Falconieri (1585/6-1656) and “Aria sopra la Bergamesca” by Marco Uccellini 1603-1680) maestro di capella to the royal courts of Modena and Parma. In the Bergamesca (suggesting a connection with Bergamo) with its simple I-IV-V-I harmonic scheme but technically sparkling melodies - probably based on folk music - the players colored their playing with dancelike exuberance…spiced with a fleeting jazzy phrase!

Offering a morning of delightful music with interesting snippets of information and a glimpse into secular love through the eyes of Baroque composers, In Mixto Genere’s historically informed performance was highly polished.

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