Monday, April 6, 2015

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra closes its 2014-2015 concert season with a birthday celebration for J.S.Bach

“A Baroque Offering” was the title for the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s birthday celebration for J.S.Bach (1685-1750) and the orchestra’s final concert for the 2014-2015 season. The Tel Aviv concert took place right on Bach’s birthday - March 21st - with the Jerusalem concert a slightly belated but nevertheless hearty celebration. Conducting the concerts from the harpsichord was the JBO’s founder and musical director Maestro David Shemer. Soloists were sopranos Adaya Peled and Yuval Oren and flautist Idit Shemer. This write attended the concert on March 25th in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, the Jerusalem International YMCA, this concert being one of the events of the 2015 Jerusalem Arts Festival.

The event opened with one of Bach’s four surviving orchestral suites (the composer referred to them as “Ouvertures”) Orchestral Suite No.2 in b-minor BWV 1067, a work for strings, continuo and flute from around 1739. Indeed a dance suite in the French style, it, like its sister suites, opens with a long overture, followed by a set of stylized dance movements. However, with the flute figuring in a soloistic manner in this suite, Bach here merges elements of the solo concerto into the French suite. Here was a sympathetic and eloquent reading of the work, fresh and vital, abundant with French lightness and charm. David Shemer chose natural, unlabored tempi allowing for much satisfying interchange and making for lively and characteristic dance rhythms. Idit Shemer handled the virtuosic flute role with intuitive ease and beauty, interacting pleasingly with violinist Noam Schuss. The small ensemble gave the performance piquancy and intimacy.

We then heard Claudio Monteverdi’s motet for soprano (or tenor) and basso continuo “Laudate Dominum” (O, praise the Lord), here accompanied by harpsichord, ‘cello (Orit Messer-Jacobi) and theorbo (Eliav Lavie). Adaya Peled gave a spirited, at times dramatic performance of the arioso piece, handling the expressive, nuanced (somewhat instrumental in its demands) style admirably, enriching vocal lines with melismas and Monteverdi’s own ornaments. From Giovanni Paolo Cima’s “Concerti ecclesiastici” of 1610, we heard “Surge propera” (Arise, my love), scored for two sopranos “in ecco”, to a text from Song of Songs 2:13-14, again supported by a simple continuo bass. Adaya Peled, positioned at the front of the stage, was echoed by vocal student of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance Yuval Oren, a new face to JBO concerts, standing further back. Their presentation was effective.
‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
And come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the crannies of the cliff,
Let me see your face,
Let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
And your face is lovely.’
In Monteverdi’s antiphon “Pulchra es” (Thou art beautiful) also from “Song of Songs” from the “Vespers” published in 1610, Peled and Oren joined in a delightful performance of the duet, highlighting the emotional words with ornaments or dissonances.

Little is known about Dario Castello’s life. What is known is that he published two collections of sonatas and that he was probably a musician at San Marco in Venice when Monteverdi was maestro di cappella there; a chamber musician, he was leader of a wind ensemble. The JBO instrumentalists gave a varied reading of his Sonata no.12, bringing out its contrasts of tempi, with different combinations of instruments producing varied timbral effects in a text offering distinctively different roles for players.

Idit Shemer rejoined the other JBO players in the final work on the program, J.S.Bach’s secular Italian chamber cantata “Non sa che sia dolore” (He knows not what sorrow is). The text deals with parting, functioning as a valedictory ode, but there are various theories as to whom the text refers. The town Ansbach is mentioned in the text, possibly referring to Torelli working in the court there, and whom Bach knew, or perhaps it is, as David Shemer writes in his program notes, a “farewell song to a friend who leaves the town in order to serve in the army”. The work is constructed as two paired recitatives and arias, preceded by a substantial sinfonia. As to when it was composed, the use of a virtuoso flautist in three of the five movements suggests it might have been written around 1724-5, when Bach was composing challenging flute parts in some of his religious cantatas, due to having a virtuoso flautist at hand in Leipzig; and a fine concert piece for flute this is! Idit Shemer’s playing was carefully detailed throughout, being especially luxuriant in the first aria, a piece contradictory in its sadness at leaving but pleasure in a new life challenge, as she wove its rich, triplet-abundant flute melodies into and around the vocal line Adaya Peled, free and comfortable in this Baroque medium, addressed her audience, setting the narrative out boldly and articulately, in a pleasingly unmannered way, bringing the work to an end, as she contended ably with the word-painting and melismas of the final aria.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra signed out of the 2014-2015 concert season with a flourish!

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