Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss (USA) conducts the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in "Dancing with Venus". Soloist - soprano Sophie Graf (Switzerland)

Kenneth Weiss (satirino,fr)
"Dancing with Venus" was the third concert in the Israel Camerata Jerusalem's 2015-2016 concert
series of "The Human Voice". This writer attended the concert in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on January 19
th, 2016. The Israel Camerata Jerusalem, in its 32nd season, was founded - and continues to be directed by Maestro Avner Biron. An atypical concert for the Camerata, "Dancing with Venus" comprised mostly Baroque works and was conducted from the harpsichord by one of today’s most illustrious harpsichordists Kenneth Weiss (USA) with Swiss soprano Sophie Graf as soloist.

The program opened with Jean-Féry Rebel's "Les Elémens, a work that might be best described as a "choreographed symphony". A violinist in the French court orchestra, and a pupil of Lully, Rebel held several posts at Versailles, also gaining prominence in Paris. Rebel invented the "simphonie de danse", a form actually independent of ballet or opera; the work performed at the Camerata concert was the last and most famous of his works of that genre. "Les Elémens" began as a dance suite to which the composer later added his unique and daring opening movement "Le Cahos" (Chaos). For the Camerata audience members expecting an evening of elegant Baroque music (that was indeed in store) they were surely not prepared to hear an opening chord which could only be described as an orchestral tone cluster appearing well before its time! In his introduction to the work, Rebel makes his intentions clear: "…it was chaos itself, that confusion which reigned among the Elements before the moment when, subject to invariable laws, they assumed the place prescribed for them within the natural order". He explains the musical depiction of the elements thus: "the bass represents the earth, the flutes the babble of water, air is represented by the piccolo, with the violins depicting fire. In the music, all evolve to a single tone, representing the creation of nature”.  Weiss conducted from the harpsichord (one of several instruments in Israel built by Henk Klop, Holland). Weiss’ adaptation (Rebel's full score has not survived) abounded in a constant change of instrumental combinations and colors, fine flute solos and duets (Esti Rofé, Naama Neuman), lightness and transparency of textures and the treatment of ornaments, hemiolas and elegant gestures fitting to the stately choreographed gestures of the French Baroque suite.

Born at Versailles, François Colin de Blamont (1690-1760), protégé- and successor of Delalande as master of the Chapelle Royale, also a painterat the court of Louis XIV, is virtually a forgotten composer. His cantata "La toilette de Venus" was published in 1723 in a collection of French cantatas. The librettist is not mentioned, but from other sources he has been discovered to be Charles-Jean-Francios Hénault (1648-1737). Rarely performed, the cantata calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, violins and 'cellos as well as continuo. In this performance, the Israeli premiere of the work, Kenneth Weiss once again directed from the harpsichord, with Sophie Graf singing the text in which the text addresses cupids, zephyrs and the Graces. Graf's performance was well shaped, light and fresh, at times more intense and triumphant, with some delightful word painting, as she and the orchestra “conversed” with each other; all were held in delicate timbral balance by Maestro Weiss. Relaxed and communicative, Sophie Graf, her singing silvery and easeful, was joined by the Camerata's new minimal-vibrato Baroque "look".

Typical of the Camerata's imaginative programming, the orchestra then presented Ottorino Respighi's "Ancient Dances and Airs", Suite no.3 (1932) composed for string orchestra, its melodies being arrangements of lute songs by Besard, a Baroque guitar piece by Roncalli and lute pieces by Santino Garsi da Parma, as well as other anonymous composers. A musicologist and antiquarian, Respighi (1879-1936) makes reference to old styles, setting the material and its wistful melodies with an informed ear, blending them into delicately set works for the modern orchestra. Weiss and the players performed them with understated poise and majesty, their sensitive handling of phrases and textures spoken with articulacy and elegance, the final variations taking a more dramatic turn.

The concert concluded with a representative selection of orchestral suites and arias from Jean-Philippe Rameau's operas "Pygmalion", "Dardanus" and "Platée". Rameau only began writing operas at age 50 but, in his 30 remaining years, he wrote some 30 works for the stage – musical tragedies, ballet-operas, pastorales, lyric comedies and comic ballets. His first "acte de ballet" "Pygmalion", a one-act opera with a minimal plot, enjoyed immediate success. Following Sophie Graf's elegant treatment of the opera's recitative and aria describing and celebrating the sculpture of a young woman coming to life, we heard a suite from Rameau's lyric tragedy "Dardanus", with Weiss and the players highlighting the contrasts and scoring potential of the music, its small solos, measured elegance, excitement and virtuosity. Then, from "Platée (1745), one of Rameau's finest lyric works, we heard Graf as La Folie in one of the opera's highlights "Formons les plus brilliants concerts". Warning Platée that she is deluded if she believes Jupiter really loves her, Sophie Graf was coquettish and theatrical, utilizing the music and words to express vocally and with movements and facial gestures.  Graduating in both harp and as a lawyer in Geneva, Ms. Graf took postgraduate studies at the Guildhall School of Music (London) and at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (Glasgow). A soloist, opera singer, ensemble singer and recitalist, this was her first appearance with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem.

No newcomer to Israeli audiences, New York-born Kenneth Weiss studied with Lisa Goode Crawford at the Oberlin Conservatory (USA) and with Gustav Leonhardt at the Sweelinck Conservatorium (Amsterdam). He presently focuses on recitals, chamber music, teaching and conducting. One of his most unique of his many projects was in collaboration with choreographer Trisha Brown, where he was musical director of “M.O.”, a ballet on Bach’s “Musical Offering”. Weiss has held teaching positions at the Norwegian Academy of Music, the Barcelona Conservatory and the Juilliard School of Music (New York). He is currently teaching at the Paris Conservatoire. Directing the Israel Camerata Jerusalem for the first time, Kenneth Weiss offered both players and audience an evening of superbly crafted, sophisticated and stylish performance.

Benny Hendel’s program notes were well researched and informative.

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