Saturday, September 21, 2013

Opening concert of the 4th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar

The 4th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar, directed by recorder player and educationalist Drora Bruck, opened on September 19th 2013 at the Israel Conservatory of Music with a concert performed by some of the course tutors. 168 participants from Israel and further afield will spend a concentrated week of tuition and performance under the guidance of some of Israel’s finest early music specialists, not to speak of a very impressive line-up of renowned overseas artists. In addition to the workshop, the Israel Conservatory will also host an international conference – “Training Early Musicians in the Age of Recordings” September 23rd-24th; the conference will be chaired by Dr. Uri Golomb (Tel Aviv University) and Dr. Alon Schab (University of Haifa).
Following words of greeting, the event opened with a performance of A. Corelli’s Sonata in D major for violin and harpsichord, performed by violinist Enrico Gatti (Italy) and harpsichordist Noam Krieger (Israel-Holland). The artists presented the audience with much of the raison d’être of Corelli’s violin sonatas and why they have remained popular not just as pedagogical works. We heard effective contrasts between movements, energy and lyricism, with Gatti leaning into some of the more surprising harmonies. In the last movement, Gatti and Krieger juggled syncopations and other quirky rhythmic combinations entertainingly. But, most of all, their playing of the sonata was a lesson in ornamentation – of the techniques, fantasy and daring involved in the kind of rich embellishment Italian music likes!

One of the evening’s treats was Israeli harpsichordist Netta Ladar’s beautifully chiseled performance of the Allemande and Presto from G.F.Händel’s Suite in d minor HWV 428 (1720) from the “Pièces de Clavecin” published to cater to the taste of the more sophisticated circles of the London music scene. Ladar’s eloquent, economically ornamented playing of the Allemande gave the musical discourse time to unfold and breathe in a thought-provoking, secure and calm manner, each subtle gesture dictating the kind of flexibility needed to present it in its full meaning. The Presto, slightly swayed, was solid and energetic and bristling with exciting harpsichord colors. A sense of discovery as well as enjoyment of the familiar lured the listener to follow Ladar through the rondo course.

Noam Krieger and Israeli Baroque ‘cellist Orit Messer Jacobi performed G. Frescobaldi ‘s lively, imitative Canzona quinta detta la Tromboncina, both artists being of one mind on the subject of presenting Frescobaldi’s fast flow of very different ideas in a manner heightening the Italian spicy caprice and dramatic aspects of the music. The artists gave themselves to the improvisatory character of the music, entertaining the audience with color, pizzazz and the wink of an eye.

A member of one of the three largest dynasties of French Baroque music, and a composer mostly writing music for the stage, oboist A.-D. Philidor is known to have published two books for treble instrument and continuo. In just about all of the pieces, the choice of instrument is left to the performer. Only in his Sonata in d minor is the recorder specified. We heard Tamar Lalo (Israel-Spain) playing the recorder solo part, with Noam Krieger and Orit Messer Jacobi forming the continuo. Lalo’s attention to detail and textures, her agile technique and distinctive temperament joined to make for a reading of the work that was expressive, sensuous and singing, also fiery and alive. Fine teamwork showed itself keenly in dialogue and musical involvement, making for interesting listening.

Dutch-born recorder player Kees Boeke, no new face to the Tel Aviv International Music Seminar, is known for his wide scope of musical interest. A program in which he performs is sure to include works less familiar to audiences. This was no exception. With Elam Rotem at the harpsichord, Boeke performed Diminutions on the Palestrina madrigal “Io son ferito” (I am wounded) (1594) by Giovanni Battista Bovicelli. In 1594, Bovicelli, a Franciscan friar and singer, published an instruction manual for instrumentalists to learn the art of playing diminutions – taking a melody and dividing it in many ways through improvisation. The book was considered the gold standard of taste and refinement in the art of improvisation; Bovicelli was one of the most important composers of this genre and he himself was an illustrious improviser. Kees Boeke told me that the composer has written the full vocal text under the diminutions, suggesting that the work might have been intended for a singer…and one of great virtuosity! Boeke decided to slow the original madrigal down in order to make the diminutions musically worthwhile. Playing on a Ganassi-type alto recorder in g, the type of solo instrument that would have been used for this repertoire, Boeke’s articulate and individual playing displayed Bovicelli’s use of extremely florid lines and subtle shifts in harmonic ornamentation. Rotem also had much to say on the harpsichord. Their bright timbres played off in good balance.

Over the last year, Israeli audiences have been hearing some outstanding and moving works – mostly choral - written in early Baroque style by Israeli-born harpsichordist, bass singer and composer Elam Rotem. At the Seminar concert, we heard the composer/performer in a work of the more intimate genre of the solo harpsichord. Rotem performed his Partita sopra La Rosa, composed in 2011 and performed by him for his master’s recital at the Schola Cantorum, Basel, Switzerland. This attractive piece was inspired by similar variation forms from around 1600, mostly based on popular melodies or familiar bass patterns heard in Europe at the time. Here, the La Rosa theme had been written by Rotem himself. His articulate, comfortably-paced playing took the listener through the various devices and contrasts used in variations of the time, the piece ending on a calm note.

We heard Israeli violinist Noam Schuss and Noam Krieger in J.S.Bach’s Sonata no.2 for violin and harpsichord in A major, BWV 1015. The violin and harpsichord sonatas were probably written around 1719, when Bach was in the employ of Prince Leopold of Cöthen. The composer had access to a new German-made harpsichord whose capabilities exceeded those of instruments he had previously been using; thus, the harpsichord roles in the violin sonatas are more challenging and dominant than in previous Bach works. The A major sonata has the harpsichord part written out in full, Bach’s new style of keyboard writing creating the semblance of a trio sonata. Meeting on an equal footing, the two Noams took on board the virtuoso demands of the piece, each in his/her instrumental idiom. The pared-down f-sharp minor Andante canon (third movement) was songful. Throughout, Schuss’ inflective grace and linear clarity were set off well by Krieger’s confrontational playing of the rich harpsichord part. Their energetic reading of the Presto finale rode on melodic- and textural articulacy, never losing sight of its delicate aspects.

The evening closed with G.Ph. Telemann’s Quartet in d minor for recorder (or bassoon), two transverse flutes and basso continuo, TWV 42,d10 (1733) from the Tafelmusik collection. Playing this work, we heard Drora Bruck (recorder), Idit Shemer, Geneviève Blanchard (flutes) and Aviad Stier (harpsichord). The audience was well entertained by the charming dialogue between recorder and both flutes, at moments when all three parts imitated an answered one another, at many others, with the flutes flowing in parallel thirds and suspensions (reminiscent of Corelli trio sonatas). Shemer and Blanchard are an experienced duo, blending elegantly, but, once again, Telemann proves that flutes and recorders can converse in finely blended sonority. Following the serenity and repose of the Largo, the final Allegro, sparkling with vibrant dialogue and playfulness, reminded us of the Polish folk music influence on Telemann’s music, this glittering ‘musique de table” bringing the concert to a delightful end.

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