Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Barrocade closes its 2012-2013 season with the sound of chalumeaux and "La Serva Padrona"

Barrocade – the Israeli Baroque Collective – concluded its 2012-2013 concert season with “La Serva Padrona”. This writer attended the concert in the auditorium of the Weil Cultural Centre, Kfar Shmaryahu, on June 11th 2013. Founded in 2007, Barrocade, mostly performing and rehearsing without a conductor, performs Renaissance- and Baroque music, however, not limiting its repertoire to those styles; its wide repertoire includes folk music, modern music and jazz.  Under the musical direction of Amit Tiefenbrunn, Barrocade also collaborates with guest artists and conductors and enjoys the support of the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport.

The June 11th concert fell into two distinct sections, the first being instrumental, opening with Francesco Geminiani’s (1687-1762) Concerto Grosso for two flutes, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, ‘cello, strings and continuo in d minor, opus 7/4. Born in Luca, Italy, and having had Corelli as one of his teachers, Geminiani moved to London, where he took the concert scene by storm with his brilliant violin playing, concerti grossi and violin sonatas; there, he also built up a fine reputation as a teacher, concert promoter and theorist. His opus 7, published in 1746, shows him moving away from Corelli’s influence and developing his own style. Middle voices became more expanded, the composer recommended extroverted ornamentation and he took more interest in including wind instruments. Here, for the first time in Israel, we heard two guest artists - Michal Lefkowicz and Ido Azrad - playing the chalumeau – a single-reeded instrument played in the late Baroque and early Classical periods; a brief experiment, the chalumeau quickly evolved into the clarinet and basset horn of Mozart’s time. In Geminiani’s work, there was much cheerful banter between flutes (Geneviève Blanchard, Idit Shemer) and violins (1st violinist Shlomit Sivan, Yasuko Hirata) between concertino and ripieno. Emphasizing the work’s invention, interest and originality, the players presented it with refined beauty.

Fine entertainment was in store with the work of yet another violin virtuoso – Dutchman Willem de Fesch (1687-1761). His Concerti opus 5, published in Amsterdam in 1725, atypical in that they feature a pair of transverse flutes, reflect the simpler, more lyrical style coming into vogue at the time. We heard Idit Shemer and Geneviève Blanchard in the flute roles. Their playing was crisp yet singing, presenting detail and interest, always elegant. Yizhar Karshon’s harpsichord spreads and transitions added grace to the performance.

Of special interest was G.P.Telemann’s Concerto for two chalumeaux TWV 52:d1. The chalumeau lacks forte potential and has a range of less than two octaves, but it’s broad, ‘cello-like timbre and woody sound must probably have been what allured Telemann to write for it. In fact, Telemann (1681-1767) used the instrument in a wide variety of musical genres between 1718 and 1760. He never wrote for the bass chalumeau and virtually ignored the soprano instrument (popular in Vienna). In this work, we heard Michal Lewkowicz and Ido Azrad playing alto- and tenor chalumeaux. Both these young Israeli artists have studied and performed in Israel and Europe, excelling both on modern clarinet and on historical instruments. Some of the concerto consists of unaccompanied chalumeau duets, with the orchestra entering to support focal ideas. The work opens with a serious homophonic utterance, setting the mood of the work.  Lewkowicz and Azrad recreate the work’s pathos with its “sighing” figures and chromaticism. The slow movements were economical and treated expressively, the dark, somewhat muted sound of the chalumeau underlining the atmosphere. Fast movements also retained the work’s basically solid mood together with hearty playing. The Barrocade players created a dignified and elegant timbral environment against which to hear the intimate, cantabile sound of the chalumeaux.

Following the intermission, Barrocade presented a more-than-semi-staged performance of G.B.Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) “La Serva Padrona” (The Servant Turned Mistress) to a libretto of Gennaro Antonio Federico (after Jacopo Nelli’s play of the same name) with soloists soprano Revital Raviv and baritone Oded Reich and actor Yehuda Lazarovich. The Intermezzo, originally performed between the acts of Pergolesi’s opera seria “Il Prigionier Superbo” (The Proud Prisoner), was published in 1731 and uses stock characters of the commedia dell’arte. Pergolesi’s score calls for a chamber orchestra of strings and continuo. Barrocade’s version of the work shortens some of the recitatives and gives Vespone, Uberto’s servant (originally a silent part for the actor) the role of narrator, speaking a witty, clever and wordy text written in Hebrew verse by playwright Rachel Ezouz.

With the Barrocade players seated at the left of the stage, the right half served as a theatrical space with minimal props. The three characters are in costume. Uberto (Oded Reich), wearing a dressing gown and long night woolen nightcap, looks every bit the crotchety old bachelor. Revital Raviv looks girlish as Serpina, the scheming young servant girl; she enters carrying a feather duster. The story is as flighty as its characters, with Rachel Azouz’ whimsical texts describing the characters, their idiosyncrasies, Uberto’s stupidity, Serpina’s cunning and her underhand plan to win over Uberto. Serpina does this by introducing him to a new suitor of hers (Vespone, sporting an eye-patch, wearing a brown safari helmet, long overcoat and carrying a sword and shotgun). The same artists performed this piece two years ago, but the current production was a much more polished presentation. There was much more use of the stage and movement; the singers’ fluency and diction made colorful use of the Italian words and sounds to illuminate the text, themselves and the comical tension between the two characters. In addition to much fine and articulate singing, vocal and verbal agility, Raviv and Reich’s amusing and well-coordinated gestures gave the comedy’s theatrical dimension refreshing energy. Serpina (her name translates as “Little Snake”) came across as mischievous and sensual but warm, Uberto as naïve, nervous and hilarious. Listening to actor, story-teller and musician Yehuda Lazarovich on stage means that those present will not miss a word of the text. With a glint in his eye, he seems to be confiding in the audience as he brings home the absurdity of the characters in hand…and of us all. Kudos to Lazarovich, Raviv and Reich for their own effective stage production.

Remarkable in its vocal melodic suppleness and vivacity, for its syllabic patter songs, octave jumps and comical idiom, the entr’acte piece’s orchestral dimensions are, however, modest. The Barrocade instrumentalists gave the score a delicate but pacey reading, keeping musical flow on target. Some audience members began humming along, proof of their enjoyment and how accessible and charming this music is. This was still preferable to hearing the ring of their mobile ‘phones! The theme of “La Serva Padrona” is timeless, a source of amusement and still appealing to today’s audiences. The Barrocade Collective ended its 2012-2013 season with plenty of good music, a smile and the wink of an eye.

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