Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Yizhar Karshon, concludes the 2015-2016 concert season with "Gloria"

Maestro Yizhar Karshon (
Ervin Drake’s song “It Was a Very Good Year”, made famous by Frank Sinatra, seems to apply especially well to the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season which has just drawn to a close. “Gloria”, directed by guest conductor harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon and featuring eight singers, took place on May 26th 2016 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA. The choice of a program including three different versions of the Gloria – a Catholic Psalm setting from early Christianity - was due to the fact that “thanksgiving is a foundation stone of human culture…fundamental to all religions…” in Karshon’s own words.

The concert opened with Claudio Monteverdi’s “Gloria a 7 da Selve Morale e Spirituale” (published 1641), one of Monteverdi’s most splendid and striking works that may possibly have been a part of a Mass directed by Monteverdi himself at St. Mark’s (Venice) in November 1631 to mark the official end of the plague that had swept through northern Italy, killing some 50,000 people in Venice alone (a theory rejected by certain musicologists). For its construction, Monteverdi took his cue for the different sections of the concertata from the text and the words, the work’s design forming a natural arch. The setting calls for seven voices (not as a choir), in this concert sopranos Einat Aronstein and Adaya Peled, alto Anne Marieke-Evers, tenors Oshri Segev and Daniel Portnoy, basses Guy Pelc and Yoav Meir Weiss. In addition to the continuo section, the two violins (Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid) also played a focal part. From its joyous, celebratory opening, what made the JBO performance of this musical gem so outstanding were the timbral beauty of each mix of voices and the swift flow of contrasting sections, with the quieter, calmer sections emerging as most beguiling. Tenor Oshri Segev’s solo within the “Qui tollis peccata mundi” section was profound and gripping. As to the work’s lively sections, each return revived the intensity more, with the closing section, returning to the thrilling figurations of the opening Gloria, ringing with exaltation.

Of the 12 concerti grossi written by Georg Muffat (1653-1704), a violin virtuoso born in Savoy but who considered himself German, and one of the most cosmopolitan composers of the 17th century, we heard No.11 “Delirium Amoris” (Delirium of Love) composed in 1682 in Rome, appropriately combining French dances with the Italian concerto grosso framework. In a true blend of suite and concerto, Karshon and his players gave poetry to the opening Sonata, offering contrasts and elegance throughout. With Schuss and Ravid placed on either sides of the stage, the work’s conversational effect came alive, both between the two violinists and between the two as against the orchestra. Stylish, precise playing as heard in this performance should encourage more exposure to works of this underrated composer.

German musicologist Hans Joachim Marx discovered the manuscript of Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” in the library archives of the London Royal Academy of Music in 2001. Although there is no clear documentation, it is thought that the composer wrote it for performance at the estate of Marchese Francesco Maria Ruspoli, a generous Italian patron of the composer. In 1707, Händel lived in Ruspoli’s country estate northwest of Rome for some weeks. At that time, the great virtuoso soprano Margherita Durastanti was also in residence there. It is believed at the “Gloria” was premiered then. At the YMCA concert, young Israeli soprano Einat Aronstein took on board the work’s extraordinary demands, her vocal skill and coloratura versatility sweeping her through the work’s virtuosic demands, its melismas, gestures and fine details impressively, as she conversed with the instrumentalists, weaving the vocal line through Händel’s score, as the players engaged in incisive reading of extroverted Italian score. (It is thought that the first violin may have been played by Corelli.) From the work’s sparkling moments to those more intimate, Aronstein’s rendition was committed, focused and responsive to the text as she shared Karshon’s sensitive ideas of nuance and timing. The poignant “Domine Deus”, accompanied only by organ (David Shemer), was sung with feeling and delicacy, the final Amen a dazzling tour-de-force.

Following the intermission, the orchestra performed Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso No.2, a nice balance to Muffat’s Concerto Grosso and a well-timed hiatus between two settings of the “Gloria” text. In this concerto, one of the 12 Opus 6 works published in 1714, a year after Corelli’s death, and on which Corelli’s posthumous reputation largely rests, the concertino consists of two violins -Schuss, Ravid – and ‘cello - Orit Messer-Jacobi. In this performance, what stood out were the players’ warm, silken timbres, enhanced by the magical theorbo sounds (Ofira Zakai) and some occasional fine-spun solo comments from the harpsichord (Karshon). The players gave expression to the work’s vitality and elegance. How fortunate it was that Karshon did not take up Corelli’s suggestion to players to eliminate the ripieno (concerto grosso) section and just perform the work with the three concertino players!

J.S.Bach compiled his four Lutheran Masses almost completely from movements of his cantatas. The Lutheran Mass in G-minor BWV 236, one of four in Latin, takes its opening from Cantata No.102, with other sections from Cantatas 187 and 72, yet Bach’s piecing careful together has resulted in a most coherent work. Joining orchestra and singers were oboists Shai Kribus and Tal Levin, with Richard Paley on bassoon. Maestro Karshon had two singers on each voice, with alto Avital Dery joining the seven singers who had performed the Monteverdi “Gloria” earlier on. Luring the listener into the work’s exquisite grace from the very outset (Kyrie), the singers highlighted the music’s subtleties, phrasing, words and textures, presenting them with clarity and in an interesting choral mix of good voices. In the “Gratias agimus tibi”, its solo sung well by Guy Pelc - a singer so suited to this medium - the play of the aria’s many layers provided a delightful tease to the ear. No less delightful was Anne Marieke-Evers’ rendition of the “Domine Fili unigente” in conversation with Kribus on oboe, the vocal line discerningly shaped by her well-anchored alto voice in singing that was tranquil and unforced and arising from natural musicality. Also with oboe, supported by bassoon (Paley), Oshri Segev performed “Qui tollis peccata mundi”, enlisting his feel for the text and beauty of vocal colour to result in a moving reading of the aria. Altogether, the performance of the G-minor Mass was both engaging and rewarding.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra was established in 1989 by harpsichordist and conductor David Shemer, who continues to be the ensemble’s musical director. Addressing the audience at this concert, Maestro Shemer spoke of the JBO’s 2016-2017 season’s program as including violinist Enrico Onofri, Elam Rotem’s “Joseph and His Brothers” and more fine Baroque concert fare. The second "Bach in Jerusalem" Festival will take place in March 2017.

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