Saturday, May 24, 2014

Idit Shemer, Netta Ladar and Doron Schleifer at the Eden-Tamir Music Center in "O Let Me Weep"

The lush, well-tended gardens either side of the stairs leading to the Eden-Tamir Music Center in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, had donned vivid spring finery to welcome guests to a morning concert in the Musica Antiqua series on May 17th 2014. The artists taking part in “O Let Me Weep” were Idit Shemer-Baroque flute, Netta Ladar-harpsichord and Doron Schleifer-countertenor.

Opening with Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) bittersweet “A New Ground in e Minor” from “Welcome to All the Pleasures” (1683), Netta Ladar took the mood piece at a relaxed pace, its personal, pensive mood tempered by the triste, falling three-measure bass ostinato. This was followed by all three artists in a performance of “O Let Me Weep” from Purcell’s semi-opera “The Fairy Queen”. Doron Schleifer’s singing in fine British English and his dramatic focus lured the audience into the piece’s devastating pathos, Idit Shemer’s gently swayed weaving of melodic lines providing a tender flute obbligato, her shaping of small musical gestures adding sighs to the singer’s plight of rejection. In a similar vein, but moving to France, we heard Shemer and Ladar in Suite no.5 for flute and continuo by Pierre Danican Philidor (1681-1731). From a family numbering composers and instrument builders, P.D.Philidor was a wind player in the grande écurie (military band) of Louis XIV from 1697, oboist in the royal chapel from 1704 and a flautist in the chamber du roi from 1712. Louis XIV considered his music as the “perfect representation of his purest taste for the arts”. P.D.Philidor was one of the few French composers to specify instruments for a given work, however, offering more than one possibility. Opening with a beautifully crafted and spontaneous-sounding movement marked “Très lentement”, Shemer lavished its somber mood with opulent ornaments, Ladar’s harpsichord spreads adding elegance. Following the proud-stepping, solid Allemande - a collaboration of rich textures and individual expression - the Sarabande sounded somewhat bare, with its harpsichord texture extensively pared down. The Gigue livened up the scene.

Of the instruments relating to how music affects the human soul in John Dryden’s libretto to G.F.Händel’s (1685-1759)“Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day”, “The Soft Complaining Flute” mirrors lovers’ woes, with the solo flute naturally providing the obbligato. Actually a soprano aria, Schleifer gave it a beguiling performance, bringing to life the key words of the text and its birdlike effects:
‘The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.’
Shemer, both collaborating in every turn of the text, yet also presenting the flute’s separate agenda, made clear how poignant and evocative this role is when played on Baroque flute.

A work rarely heard on the Israeli concert platform is Händel’s small secular cantata “Mi Palpita Il Cor”, one of some 60 cantatas for solo voice and obbligato written by the composer. Scored originally in Italy for soprano voice, this cantata may very well have been performed at musical gatherings at the Accademia dell’Arcadia, these being costumed affairs in which those attending would arrive dressed as Arcadian shepherds. “Mi Palpita” was later revised and re-scored for alto voice in London. Beginning “My heart palpitates, but I do not know why”, it tells of a young man confused at being in love. Here is an example of Händel’s virtuosic writing in the Italianate vocal style (and language), a pastoral-Arcadian style piece using an unabashed heart-on-sleeve text. Free of the constraints of singing off the score, Schleifer skillfully wielded the Italian text to explain, gesture and express the angst caused by love in the world of shepherds and shepherdesses. He fired such words as “Tormento e gelosia, sdegno, affano e dolore” (anguish and jealousy, fury, grief and pain) dramatically as he handled the work’s technical challenges, interacting well with the other two artists. The pastoral qualities of the transverse flute enhanced the scene, a flute part that is very demanding. Shemer’s playing of it was stylish and warm in tone.

The artists devoted the second half of the concert to works of J.S.Bach (1685-1750). The text to Cantata BWV 182 – “King of Heaven, be thou welcome” - from which the artists performed “Leget euch dem Heiland unter” (Submit yourself to the Saviour), a work from Bach’s Weimar period, was probably written by Salomo Franck, the Weimar court poet, many of whose texts Bach had set to music. In this attractive aria with flute obbligato, the artists presented the piece’s mood of devotion, purity and dedication in a reading that was reverent, subtle and not over-embellished. In “Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze” (Open yourself, my entire heart) from Cantata BWV 61 “Now Come, Saviour of the Heathens”, Schleifer’s mellifluous singing and facial expression evoked the believer’s joy at the onset of the Advent Season. “Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen” (It is well for you, you chosen souls) is the only aria in Cantata no.34 “O Eternal Flame, O Fount of Love”. Its text celebrates the merits of those “whom God has chosen”; here Schleifer wove the aria’s words of love, peace and contentment into the tender yet fervent melodiousness of the piece. Harpsichord and flute substituted for the work’s scoring of strings, two flutes and continuo in what was, nevertheless, mellifluous and lullaby-like delivery.

Netta Ladar’s unrushed and unmannered playing of Prelude and Fugue in f sharp minor from J.S.Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I brought out the differences in character between the two pieces, the course of the fugue slightly flexed as its course unfolded. The last instrumental work on the program was Bach’s Sonata in C major BWV 1033, a continuo sonata in which Bach provided the harpsichord part with only the bass line. There is, in fact, some doubt as to which Bach composed the work. Opening with a short elegant Andante section, Ladar kept the harpsichord role minimal in the Presto. After a touching, serene reading of the noble Adagio movement, two graceful minuets brought the work to a close.

The audience at the Eden-Tamir Music Center delighted in this concert featuring home-grown talents, bringing together three outstanding Jerusalem-born musicians in Baroque performance that was as well-informed as it was tasteful.

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