Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra and Shalev Ad-El host the great German countertenor Andreas Scholl

Andreas Scholl (photo:Anne Dean)
The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra closed its 2014-2015 season with “Shakespeare”, a concert directed by Shalev Ad-El, who has served as the orchestra’s musical director and principal conductor since 2013. Ad-El also accompanied on the harpsichord. The event hosted the distinguished countertenor Andreas Scholl (Germany), sopranos Hadas Faran-Asia and Shira Petershnik, also the Moran Choir (director: Naomi Faran). This writer attended the concert on July 4th in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The program opened with Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to “Otello”. In its plot, the opera is mostly a far cry from that of Shakespeare’s “Othello”. When Lord Byron saw the opera in Venice in 1818, he wrote “They have been crucifying Othello into an opera…Music good but lugubrious…” “Lugubrious” it was not under the baton of Shalev Ad-El. In Rossini’s nine-minute bird’s eye view of the opera, its melodies and moods, we heard performance that was brisk, compelling and bristling with excellent rhythmical impetus. Rossini’s masterful orchestration of this overture in andante mode also offered some delightful solos to NKO players.

Andreas Scholl, no new face to Israeli audiences, was joined by Ad-El (harpsichord) for the performance of three Henry Purcell songs and one of Thomas Campion, beginning with Purcell's “Music for a While”. A unique song of great beauty, the artists shaped and flexed phrases, taking time to ponder the song’s different levels of meaning, from the world of Greek mythology and the Oedipus legend, to its darker side, to its statement on the power of music. Scholl’s vocal depiction of the snakes dropping one by one from Alecto’s head was almost visual. In “Sweeter than Roses”, from Pausanias (1695), Scholl gives life to the song’s emotions, from the improvisatory, ornate and languorous opening, to the effects of a kiss – first a frozen sense of shock, then a fiery, passionate response, as expressed by leaps and a rapid tempo change, to be followed by a section celebrating the power of love. An astounding song, here is a miniature drama so daring and theatrical for its time and ours and always so gripping when performed well. Then, restoring a sense of tranquility, we heard “Evening Hymn”, a glimpse into the sacred element of Purcell’s songs. The opening piece in Henry Playford’s collection of “Harmonia Sacra” (1688), this is not church music but would probably have been sung as part of simple domestic devotional service. Embellishing the keyboard part, a 5-bar ground bass that shifts a few times, Ad-El chose to play it using the lute register, thus creating an intimate setting. Scholl‘s wonderfully controlled restraint reflected the meditative content of the hymn. Then to Thomas Campion's whimsical lute song “I care not for these ladies” with Scholl flexing the pace and highlighting the girl’s ambiguous utterances here and there to present the text’s flirtatious double entendres and dancelike rhythm in a most entertaining way. Purcell’s works and those of his contemporaries form an important part of Scholl’s repertoire. His performance of them is informed, detailed and vivid, his word-painting engaging, as he uses vibrato to emphasize a pivotal idea (verbal or musical). At 47, his voice remains supple and full, his manner relaxed and communicative. In addition to teaching and conducting in many countries, Shalev Ad-El is an outstanding and internationally known harpsichordist with a prestigious worldwide career. His attentive accompaniments to the Purcell songs were subtle and sophisticated. In a very different vein, Scholl spoke of Israeli singer and songwriter Idan Raichel sending him an original melody, requesting that Scholl find words to suit it. Scholl came up with an old German poem “In stiller Nacht” (On a quiet night). He sang this as his encore, with harpsichordist/pianist Tamar Halperin’s arrangement for voice and string ensemble.

Performed by the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra under the baton of Shalev Ad-El, we then heard Menahem Nebenhaus’ “Dowland Song Remix Suite”. In this work, Scholl sang three mournful Dowland songs - “Come heavy sleep”, “In darkness let me dwell” and “Sorrow Come” - first, to the accompaniment of a string ensemble (an association to the viol consort of Dowland’s time) and later to be backed by the orchestra whose agenda branched out to consist of some rich orchestral writing, taking the listener to later styles with jazzy moments and quotes from well-known works of Mozart, Wagner, etc., all these fragments referring to love, night, sadness and death. The audience enjoyed this collage - a dynamic, colorful canvas concluding with an “unadulterated” final octave, returning the listener to the Renaissance style. Conductor, composer and music educationalist, Menahem Nebenhaus (b.1960) has encouraged and inspired young musicians through his work with the Young Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, the IDF Education Corps Chamber Orchestra and the Thelma Yellin Symphony Orchestra and the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) Symphony Orchestra.

We then heard a number of movements from Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, providing incidental music to Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Tutored in French, German and English as children, Felix and his siblings enjoyed reading plays together, including those of Shakespeare. With its fairies, elves and magic spells appealing to the children, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a favorite, with Felix familiar with this play from his early years. The appealing and effervescent overture was written in 1826, when the composer was only 17, with the incidental music itself composed 16 years later. With their characteristic voice culture and finely blended harmony, the young singers of the Moran Choir sang with delicacy and competence, capturing Mendelssohn’s world of youthful imagination. Sopranos Hadas Faran-Asia and Shira Peturshnik, their richness of vocal color contending well with orchestra and choir, contributed to the subtlety and nobility of the music. Conducting without the score, Maestro Ad-El’s reading of the work sprang to life with fresh, exciting and finely crafted orchestral sounds. Never discounting any gesture, he recreated the work’s magic and naiveté, its yearning and gentle humor, from the four mysterious and evocative opening chords of the overture which invite the listener to enter the magical forest outside Athens where the story plays out, through the chiaroscuro effect of the woodwinds in the Scherzo, to the horn solo describing the sleeping lovers, to the Wedding March that re-establishes the world of humans and floods the scene with daylight. Performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” demands fine wind-playing; the NKO did not disappoint.

The event concluded with a polished performance of “MiMa’amakim” (Out of the depths) from the second CD of the Idan Raichel Project, performed by the Moran Choir, conducted by Naomi Faran and accompanied on piano and with percussion. In a polished, superbly coordinated performance of delicate singing and nicely choreographed movements, the young singers presented the song in an intoxicating mix of European and eastern rhythms and melody.

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