Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Doret Florentin and Gideon Brettler perform at the Redeemer Church, Jerusalem

Once Jerusalem’s summer evenings become pleasant and balmy, it is delightful to attend concerts
of the “Summer Nights in the Courtyard” series. The “courtyard” refers to the medieval cloister that forms an inner courtyard to the complex of the Lutheran Redeemer Church in the Muristan Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. It was June 29th 2013 and we were to hear a recital by recorder-player Doret Florentin and guitarist Gideon Brettler.

Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Doret Florentin took bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music at Tel Aviv University, with a B.A. also in Mathematics and Statistics, then continuing her studies at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague. Since 2003, she has been studying the historical bassoon. A founding member of the “Me La Amargates Tú” ensemble, she has performed internationally as a soloist and with various groups. Back in Israel since 2008, Florentin performs and teaches recorder in various places, including the Levinsky College (Tel Aviv).

Gideon Brettler took music studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Mannes College of Music (New York), following with a post-graduate degree with Laura Young at the Escuela Luthier (Barcelona). He performs as a soloist, at festivals and with various chamber ensembles. In 2005, Brettler won first prize in the Israeli National Guitar Competition as well as a special prize awarded by the Spanish Embassy in Israel for the interpretation of Spanish Music.

I was seated in the courtyard of the Lutheran Redeemer Church for some minutes before the beginning of the concert; the sounds all around us were a random mix of the muezzin calling to prayer and the excited twittering of hundreds of birds wheeling around the twilit sky above us. But, as people took their seats and the last rays of sunset took their leave, evening silence and tranquility descended on the leafy outdoor venue and the concert began.

Works performed encompassed music of the 16th to the 20th centuries, beginning with Florentin’s solo performance of “The English Nightingale” from Jacob van Eyck’s (1590-1657) “The Flute’s Garden of Delights”. 140 melodies with variations, this collection would have been a staple of 17th century Dutch household music, played by the Utrecht carillonneur (van Eyck), himself a virtuoso recorder player, and by other competent amateurs. This is some of the most challenging material for the soprano recorder. Florentin presented the charming piece with clear two-voiced banter, variously shaped bird calls (also using Flatterzunge), plenty of temperament and ornaments galore.

We then heard a number of works for alto recorder from the Baroque repertoire, with Brettler providing the harpsichord basso continuo role on the guitar, no mean feat. The first was G.P.Telemann’s (1681-1767) Sonata in C major, composed specifically for recorder around 1727 - delightful music for both players and listeners. G.F.Händel’s (1685-1759) Sonata in F major HWV 369, opened with the noble and velvety Grave movement. Florentin has a love of embellishment; in this movement, she adds ornamentation without losing sight of its tranquil character. The two fast movements were entertaining rather than showy. The artists took the Siciliano movement at a relaxed pace, creating a mood piece seemingly enhanced by the gentle swaying of trees in the courtyard, the occasional leaf floating down in free flight. From oboist, flautist and recorder-player Giuseppe Baldassare Sammartini’s (1695-1750) “24 Sonatas for Flute and Bass”, Florentin and Brettler performed Sonata no. 7. This single-movement, late-Baroque work consists of a theme and variations, the virtuoso recorder part handled in great detail by Florentin, with her palette of imaginative effects and textures coming into play. Here was a good opportunity to hear a work by an undeservedly neglected composer who was actually an exceptionally influential and forward-looking composer of his time!   

Also representative of German Baroque repertoire for solo alto recorder are Telemann’s “Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute”, published in Hamburg (1732-1733). Performing Sonata no.2 in a minor, Florentin shows the audience that the work – apparantly a sonata da chiesa – is, indeed, a fantasia. In fact, only an artist who is daring and spontaneous can really catch the spirit of this unique music. Florentin spells out the contrasts between each of the small movements, playing them with freedom and imagination and emphasizing the work’s rhetorical character.

Prior to performing works written specifically for the guitar, Gideon Brettler performed an arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti’s (1685-1757) Harpsichord Sonata in A major K.208. Marked “Andante e cantabile”, this is one of the 555 short keyboard sonatas best suited for transcription to guitar. Beginning with a leisurely rising arpeggio, Brettler fuses Scarlatti’s anticipations and chromatic alterations into a spontaneous whole as he bends rhythmic ideas in an expressive, personal manner to create a poignant reverie.  Then, to Isaac Albéniz’ ((1860-1909) prelude “Asturias” opus 47, no.5 of “Suite Espanola”, composed (originally for piano) in the early 1890s in London, in which the composer expresses nostalgia for his native Spain. This is expressed through references to flamenco music and that of Moorish tradition. The work has become one of the most important of classical guitar repertoire. Brettler’s reading of it is dexterous, the piece’s excitement tempered with poise and clarity. In his sensitive performance of Prelude no.4 in e minor of the six composed in 1940 by Heitor Villa-Lobos’ (1887-1959), Brettler brings out the work’s mystery, its mellow and exotic timbres, colored with echoes of Impressionism and the music of the Indians of Brazil.

Moving to Italy, we heard Duet no. 1 in D major opus 158 by the Italian-turned-Parisian guitar master Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841).  This straight-forward salon music, now being rediscovered, offers much melodic elegance…almost Mozartian in character. Florentin and Brettler’s skillful playing displayed the music’s vitality and charm, their close interaction and interweaving of timbres fresh and surprising.

The concert ended on a breezy, upbeat note, with one of Argentinean composer Ástor Piazzolla’s (1921-1992) most popular works - “Libertango”. Composed in 1974, the composer referred to it as “a sort of song of liberty”. Brettler and Florentin juggled the piece’s pulsing rhythms and its textures and South American flavors, with Florentin winding the sinuous and irresistible themes in and around the ostinato accompaniment. For an encore, the artists played Scott Joplin’s (1868-1917) rag “The Strenuous Life” (1902), the title inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s collection of essays in which he advocates that Americans should work hard and accomplish more. Naïve and dancelike, making use of the brighter sound of the soprano recorder, the carefree music seems unrelated  to Roosevelt’s weighty texts, its small twists and teasing moments ending the concert with the wink of an eye!

Following the concert, Wolfgang Schmidt, Provost of the Church of the Redeemer, invited the audience for a glass of wine and to attend the opening of an exhibition in the refectory - “Sum-E Calligraphy of the Soul” and “The Road for Peace” - by Belgian artist Annie Fischler.     

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