Friday, December 19, 2014

In "Owlos on Strings", the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra is joined by the New Israeli Recorder Quartet

For “Owlos on Strings”, the second subscription concert of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season, on December 4th 2014 at the Jerusalem International YMCA, the JBO took its audience on a different musical journey –a Baroque musical journey, but one of a different kind. Directed by its founder and musical director David Shemer, the string section of the JBO was joined by the Owlos Recorder Quartet – Drora Bruck, Alon Schab, Idit Paz and Idit Shemer. Established in 2012, the New Israel Recorder Quartet performs in concerts and festivals; the ensemble is presently working on locating Israeli works rarely or not performed by professional musicians, and bringing them back to the public’s attention in the concert hall and on recordings.

Several of the works on the program were antiphonal, a style originating in Venice, in which separate choirs (vocal or instrumental) were placed in different parts of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice, for which composers wrote in a polychoral style evoking imitative and echoing effects. Such was Canzon XXXI à 8 of the (almost anonymous) early 17th century Italian composer Sabastiano Chilese, who flourished in Venice around 1608, with the two mixed instrumental “choirs” placed on either side of the stage. This was followed by two pieces by one of the greatest representatives of the Venetian School and principal organist of St. Mark’s Basilica, Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1612). Both works come from a collection from 1608. Performed on strings and harpsichord, with violinist Noam Schuss’s ever secure and richly-fashioned leading, Canzon Prima “La Spiritata” à 4 was given a mellifluous and poetic reading, its fluid sections well contrasted in keeping with the composer’s interest in dynamics. With Canzon “Vigesimaottava” à 8, we were back to antiphonal music, this time with one choir of strings and the second of recorders, in playing that was fresh and indicative of G.Gabrieli’s rhythmically daring originality.

The works of Massimiliano Neri (c.1623-1673), an organist in Venetian churches, one of them being the Basilica of San Marco, represent an attempt to merge the Gabrieli tradition with the “stile moderno”. In the double-choir Sonata decima à 8, Neri’s scoring calls for a first choir of three violins and theorbo and a second choir of three recorders and theorbo. Apart from presenting different instrumental combinations, the first movement of the work boasted some highly attractive solos and duets, played without interruption –violin (Noam Schuss), harpsichord (David Shemer) together with theorbo (Eliav Lavi), ‘cello (Orit Messer-Jacobi) and more.

With the rich scoring of Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s (1644-1704) Sonata pro Tabula à 10, here was dinner music for a sumptuous feast in 17th century northern Europe, a work abounding in colorful folk music associations assimilated into a sonata with suite elements. Remaining in the same region, we heard Concerto in C major, one of German composer and theorist Johann David Heinichen’s (1683-1729) Dresden Concerti. From the vivacity and variety in this work of the “Gruppenkonzert” (group concerto) genre common to the region, the style employing a variety of solo instruments, much instrumental color and alternating “choirs”, one must suppose that the Dresden court orchestra was an excellent ensemble of players. The JBO string players and their Owlos guests entertained the audience well with this music, which is joyful and elaborate, also elegant, and light without being banal, the predilection for wind instruments at the Dresden court adding the sweetness and virtuosity of the flauto dolce to the orchestral timbre of a composer fairly obscure till recent times.

Continuing the series of Baroque oboist Bruce Haines’ New Brandenburg Concertos, six concertos made up mostly of movements from J.S.Bach cantatas, and numbered from seven to twelve, the JBO performed No. 10 in D minor. The idea for these works was based on the fact that Bach himself was a champion recycler and that the original Brandenburgs are, in fact, merely a part of the composer’s large corpus of instrumental music written for the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, some of which is probably lost. Haynes’ works adhere to Bach’s variety of scoring: as are the original Brandenburg Concertos each colored with different instrumentations, so are those of Haynes. With Haynes’ Concerto no.10 in D minor calling for a number of wind instruments, the Owlos recorder players were in the right place at the right time. For this work we were presented with one choir of recorders and one of strings, with much civilized chamber-music-like conversation held between them and some superbly polished solo-playing on the part of ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi. If Haynes’ arrangements were referred to by him as “speculative trials”, these appealing pieces have set JBO audiences thinking, disgussing and weighing up opinions…also ready in anticipation for the next.

With a change of atmosphere, we heard violinists Noam Schuss, Rephael Negri, Dafna Ravid and Nahara Carmel performing G.Ph.Telemann’s Concerto à 4 Violini in G major TWV 40:201, one of Telemann’s very many chamber works, 80 or so being composed without basso continuo, of which three were for four violins, written possibly to provide court-employed violinists with some challenging but enjoyable drill and in which the composer may very well have played. Concise and concentrated, the G major Concerto, offering moments to remind the listener that this was indeed a program built around antiphonal music, was a highlight of the evening. In playing that was subtle, personal and profound, the four players showed the listener through Telemann’s score of rich, moving harmonies, his daring use of dissonances, motifs of sharp profile, fugal ideas, folk idiom and humor, as they concluded it with a Vivace movement of jolly fanfares.

The evening’s program ended back in Italy, where it had begun, with Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto in due Cori con flauti obbligati, RV 585 (c.1708), a work for solo violin (Noam Schuss) and antiphonal orchestra, with each of the “due cori” consisting of two violins and two recorders, the second also including keyboard. This would probably have been performed by the orphaned girls of the Ospedale della Pieta, who, it should be known, played not only violin but recorders, and, in fact, a host of other instruments. Vivaldi’s employment there as music master inspired him to explore the many possibilities inherent in the concerto, heard here in imaginative textural combinations of instrumental sonorities, his writing for violas (Daniel Tanchelson, Tami Borenstein) forming a formidable textural and flexible element. In this concert, the recorders function as orchestral instruments. In the solo violin role, Noam Schuss gave an outstandingly gripping solo performance once again, the work also peppered with such treats as an intricate harpsichord solo (David Shemer) and a touching violin duet for violin and theorbo (Schuss, Lavi).

Audiences showed much interest in this unique concert, enjoying the high quality playing of four of Israel's finest recorder players with the JBO's suave string orchestra, stepping out of the realm of mainstream Baroque concert repertoire performed in this country to be rewarded with a fresh, new listening experience.

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