Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Maggie Cole and Idit Shemer perform music of Philippe Gaubert at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv



A truly unique program to see the 2013-2014 Israeli concert season out was “Philippe Gaubert’s Coloring Box”, a concert performed by Israeli flautist Idit Shemer and visiting keyboard artist Maggie Cole (USA/UK). This writer attended the performance at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv, on June 28th
 2014. The recital consisted solely of music for flute and piano by French composer, flautist and conductor Philippe Gaubert. Cole and Shemer have been working on the Gaubert project for a year. At the end of August, they will be resident musicians at Avaloch Farm Music Institute, New Hampshire, also making a recording of Gaubert’s works.

Philippe Gaubert (1869-1941) was one of the primary interpreters of the French flute school. His father, a cobbler and a fine amateur clarinetist, gave him his first music lessons. As a child, Gaubert took flute lessons with Jules Taffanel and later with his son the great pedagogue Paul Taffanel. In his teens, Gaubert played first flute at the Concerts du Conservatoire and the Paris Opéra, becoming assistant conductor at the Concerts du Conservatoire from 1904 and professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire following World War I, also building up a splendid career as a conductor, particularly of modern music. His first recordings were made in 1918. He became musical director of the Paris Opéra in 1920. Gaubert was still conducting with the Opéra when it was evacuated to Cahors – his hometown – in June 1940. His oeuvre includes many chamber works, several scored for flute – reflecting the revolution in flute playing initiated by Debussy and flute builder Theobald Boehm - but also for other instruments. Gaubert also composed songs, three symphonic poems, a violin concerto, ballet music and two operas – “Fresques” (1923) and “Naïla” (1927). Today, he is probably best remembered by flautists for his editing and completion of Paul Taffanel’s comprehensive treatise “Méthode complete de flute”, published in 1923, a major treatise covering the history, theory and practice of the flute. With Gaubert a prominent flautist/composer of his day, his music is now enjoying renewed interest. In 2009, the renowned French flautist and flute teacher Nicolas Duchamp was formally commissioned by the Gaubert family to celebrate Gaubert's life, music and contribution to the French art of flute playing. This took the form of concerts performed worldwide titled "GAUBERT VIVANT!" with pianist Barbara McKenzie, premiering in Paris in 2009. Duchamp has also recorded using the famous Gaubert flute.

The concert opened with “Sicilienne”, originally composed for flute and orchestra, but better known in its setting for flute and piano, probably arranged by Gaubert himself. Other short pieces we heard were “Romance”, “Ballade” and “Madrigal”. The major works of the recital were the first two of Gaubert’s three neo Romantic/Impressionistic sonatas for flute and piano – Sonata no. 1 in A major (1917), dedicated to the memory of Paul Taffanel and Sonata no. 2 in C major (1924) dedicated to the renowned flautist and teacher Marcel Moyse. What came across throughout the concert was the fine sense of balance and give-and-take Shemer and Cole have created. Their total immersion in- and communication of Gaubert’s lyrical, delicate style (influenced much by Fauré and Debussy) took the audience on a journey of superbly crafted, lush melodic playing and suave harmonic color, imaginative transitions, pastoral associations (Sonata no.2), alluring inner voices, well crafted shapes and gentle whimsy. More intense moments were treated subtly, never tainted by excessive drama or roughness, the artists also keeping a safe distance from over-sentimentality in the works’ many intimate, gossamer-fine and mellifluous moments. Here were two artists offering polished, secure performance, fine collaboration and good taste. Gaubert offers the flute some sparkling, virtuosic passagework, his keyboard writing challenging, pianistic and by no means secondary; Cole and Shemer, however, used the music’s technical challenges to lend prominence to the music’s elegantly French aesthetic.

American-born Maggie Cole began playing piano as a child. An interest in early keyboards led her to England, where she studied harpsichord with Jill Severs and Kenneth Gilbert. Today she performs internationally on piano, harpsichord and fortepiano. She is a prominent figure on the early music scene. With an avid interest in the Classical style, she explores it with Trio Goya, in which she is joined by violinist Kati Debretzeni and ‘cellist Sebastian Comberti. A member of the Sarasa Ensemble, Cole frequently appears with them on harpsichord and fortepiano. She also has much interest in performing contemporary music. Residing in London, Maggie Cole is involved in community issues and active as a promoter of concerts, running concerts at London Lighthouse to raise money for this AIDS/HIV facility.

In addition to modern flute, Jerusalem-born Idit Shemer performs on early flutes. She studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the University of Wisconsin (USA) and in England. Performing in Israel and Europe, Shemer frequently appears as soloist with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, also playing in chamber groups and has recorded four CDs in recent years. Such composers as Oded Assaf, Oded Zehavi and Haim Alexander have composed works for her. Seeking to expand the repertoire for flute, she looks for original, unknown works and also arranges music written for other instruments. Apart from performing and teaching, Idit Shemer writes prose, has published two novels, the first having won the Prime Minister’s Prize.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Spanish Soul" - Hadas Faran Asia, Ira Givol, Oded Shuv at the 45th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

One of the more intimate events of the 45th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival was “Spanish Soul – Lorca, De Falla, Bizet”, an afternoon concert June 7th in the crypt of the 12th century Abu Gosh Crusader Benedictine Church. Those performing were soprano Hadas Faran Asia, ‘cellist Ira Givol and guitarist Oded Shouv. In this, their first performing project together, the artists took the listener on a short historical tour through vocal- and instrumental Spanish music from the 15th century through to music of the 20th century, beginning with anonymous songs. Oded Shouv gave explanations on the various works, also providing most of the arrangements for the program.

One interesting arrangement was the merging of “Mille Regretz”, a chanson attributed to Josquin des Prez (c.1440-1521), with a version of the same text composed 100 years later by Luis de Narváez (fl.1526-1549) titled “La Canción del Emperador” (The Emperor’s Song) .
‘A thousand regrets at deserting you
And leaving behind your loving face.
I feel so much sadness and such painful distress
That it seems to me my days will soon dwindle away.’

An interesting work, and one probably unfamiliar to many of us in the audience, was G.F.Händel’s secular ‘Spanish’ Cantata “Nò se emenderà jamàs” (1707), an early composition from the composer’s Italian period and the only Händel cantata in the Spanish language, calling for obbligato guitar. Perfectly scored for this trio, the artists gave it a spirited and communicative performance, celebrating Händel’s only, somewhat enigmatic foray into Spanish music. In addition to being a poet, painter, pianist and arranger, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) collected songs from singers in Spain. We heard three of his arrangements of these, set by him for voice and piano, rearranged by Oded Shouv for guitar and voice. Beginning with the off-beat rhythms of the untamed “Anda Jaleo” (Go Make a Row), to the sultry 15th century “La Morillas de Jaén” (Jaén’s Morals) to the vivid and exuberant “Viva Sevilla!” there was much fine collaboration between the two artists, with Faran Asia infusing the songs with verve, emotion and spontaneity and Shouv displaying real expertise and virtuosity in the Flamenco style. A friend of Lorca, Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was influenced by Flamenco-, gypsy music and by Impressionism. His “Siette Canciones Populares” (Seven Popular Songs) of 1914 feature songs from different regions of Spain, their pre-existing melodies and authentic texts arranged somewhat freely by the composer. Via the music’s fiery rhythms, its poignant moments, colorful scoring and textures and its intense dance rhythms, Faran-Asia, Shouv and Givol painted a scene of vivid Spanish colors and temperament. Punctuating the intensity and movement, time stood still in their poignant performance of the fragile lullaby “Nana”. A splendid arrangement of the Habanera and Seguidilla from Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” was the final vocal work on the program, with Faran Asia wholeheartedly depicting Carmen as a sensuous, fickle and hot-blooded character. Altogether, her temperament and vocal timbre and agility suit this musical genre; her performance was rewarding.

Offering a glimpse into Spanish instrumental music, Oded Shouv and Ira Givol gave a brilliant and dynamic reading of a Ricercada of Diego Ortiz (c.1510-1570), a clean, precise and athletic performance of Gaspar Sanz’ (1640-1710) “Canarios” - a lively, syncopated dance from the Canary Islands (originally written for the five-course Baroque guitar) - and a movement from Falla’s ballet “The Three-Cornered Hat” arranged by Shuv, in which the artists used instrumental effects to describe the situation involving the two main characters - an infatuated, macho judge and the miller’s gentle, faithful wife.

Offering an attractive program in the fine acoustics of the Crypt, these three artists, each known individually to the concert-going public, provided a polished and totally enjoyable musical event. This was excellent festival fare.