Monday, May 20, 2013

Maarten Engeltjes and Israel Golani with the Barrocade Ensemble at the May 2013 Abu Gosh Festival

Maarten Engeltjes and Israel Golani (photo:Martin Nota)
Concert no.2 of the 43rd Abu Gosh Vocal Festival featured two artists from the Netherlands –
countertenor Maarten Engeltjes and Israeli-born theorbo-, Baroque guitar and lute player Israel Golani, together with harpsichordist and organist Yizhar Karshon and members of the Barrocade Ensemble.  The concert took place on May 14th 2013 in the Kiryat Yearim Church of the Ark of the Covenant, 10 kilometers west of Jerusalem, in the Jerusalem Hills.

Born in 1984, Maarten Engeltjes began singing as a boy soprano at age four. His countertenor debut was at age 16 with performances in works of Bach and Händel. In 2003, he was selected to participate in a master class run by Michael Chance; this led to a joint concert. A graduate of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (2007), Engeltjes has been coached by Andreas Scholl and his former teacher Richard Levitt and is the recipient of prestigious prizes. Today he runs a busy international performing schedule, records and premieres new works. This Abu Gosh concert was the singer’s Israeli concert debut.

Having graduated with honors in Musicology from Tel Aviv University, Israel Golani studied performance on historical plucked instruments with Fred Jacobs at the Sweelinck Conservatory (Amsterdam) and Elizabeth Kenny at the London Royal Conservatory of Music. He has been involved in projects with the Flanders Opera, the Holland Opera and Opera Studio Nederland. In 2005, he directed “Ballo Cantabile” – a production of modern dance and Baroque music. Together with Maarten Engeltjes, he performed in the Junge Elite concert series at the 2009 Mecklenberg-Vorpommern Festival in northern Germany.

Maarten Engeltjes and Israel Golani’s performance of a number of John Dowland’s (1563-1625) lute songs formed a major part of the concert. Elgeltjes and Golani, seated together, presented the individual character and message of each of these small jewels, most of which tell of love affairs gone wrong or going wrong. In Engeltjes and Golani’s reading of Dowland’s hallmark pavan-ayre “Flow My Tears” the text was treated with ongoing interest and subtlety; tinged with sadness and dynamic changes, including finely controlled pianissimi, they presented different aspects of the text, the word “happy” proving to be merely another shade of Dowland’s melancholy!  With “Sorrow Stay” and “In Darkness Let Me Dwell” we move with them into the most lachrymose of Dowland’s songs; together the artists color the songs with heartbreak, pausing on such key words as “pity” in the former, in the latter, allowing for Dowland’s dissonances to emerge, camouflaging the meter to affect the listener afresh. Dowland places all in proportion when writing that “though the title doth promise tears…no doubt pleasant are the tears which music weeps, neither are tears shed always in sorrow but sometimes in joy and gladness.”

With some interesting ornaments and flutters, small pauses and hesitations, Dowland’s “Now, O Now” was presented less as the “Frog Galliard”, however, rather more as a thoughtful, reticent utterance. (Both titles are thought to have referred to Queen Elizabeth I’s final suitor for marriage -refused by her- the French Duc d’Alençon, in England from 1579 to 1581, a small, ugly man but a fine dancer. She referred to him as “The Frog”.) Another galliard “Can She Excuse” probably refers to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, who became the Queen’s court favorite after the Duc d’Alençon had parted. In their compelling performance of the song, wordy in its urgency, Engeltjes and Golani use its rhythmic quirkiness to dramatize the dilemma of the Queen’s displeasure of Devereux. In “Dear, If You Change”, a desperate attempt to prove love’s sincerity, Engeltjes and Golani move together, the singer delighting the audience with his bell-like upper register notes and fine British diction. The artists float the contemplation of feminine beauty in “Time Stands Still”, gracing its frozen, rapt wonder with superbly shaped phrase endings. Theirs is a close integration of vocal- and lute parts; Engeltjes’ gestures are compelling, his sound forthright and fresh, with Golani’s response mirroring verbal texts and moods and in constant musical dialogue with the singer.

Israel Golani’s poetic performance of Dowland’s “A Dream” displayed stylish eloquence and good taste. Playing an Allemande for lute solo by the Dutch composer and instrumentalist Nicolas Vallet (1583-1642) the artist’s delicate reading of the work used slight flexing of tempo, giving the melody natural pliancy and a sense of process.

We then heard Engeltjes, Golani (theorbo) and members of Ensemble Barrocade in Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) “Stabat Mater” RV 621. Commissioned by the Chiesa Santa Maria della Pace (Brescia, Lombardy) and first performed there in Holy Week of 1712, it was scored for the church’s in-house ensemble of two violins, viola and continuo. The soloist may well have been the prestigious male alto Filippo Sandri or, in his absence, another male alto. In any case, the Vivaldi “Stabat Mater” is countertenor repertoire. Barrocade and Engeltjes’ reading of the work expressed its pathos and tragedy, but it was fired by emotion, energy and dynamic changes, making for a sense of urgency and drama and avoiding the bleak dourness often present in many interpretations we hear of it. The singer’s buoyant and easeful handling of melismas, his tasteful and economical use of vibrato and his open, expansive and spontaneous vocal sound complemented the ensemble’s animated and articulate punctuation of the instrumental score. The one-to-a-part instrumental situation made for transparency and there was constant communication between instrumentalists and singer.

Maarten Engeltjes and the instrumentalists concluded the concert with the first aria of J.S.Bach’s (1680-1750) cantata “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” (Just Resist Sin) BWV 54 (1714), the first of four cantatas written for the alto soloist and possibly the first solo cantata. Although a strict da capo aria, its dissonant opening chord and tensely throbbing rhythm are unconventional, clearly inspired by the ominous text of Georg Christian Lehms that focuses on the stealthy poisoning of the soul from pervading sin.
‘Just resist sin.
Lest its poison seize you.
Don’t let Satan blind you;
For those who defile God’s honor
Will incur a curse that is deadly.’
An interesting work indeed, with the players’ incisive playing reflecting its vitriolic message, it seemed to be placed somewhat too low for Engeltjes’ voice, with his lower register not penetrating the instrumental texture with the ease he does in his higher range. 

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