Friday, May 19, 2017

Shaked Bar soloes with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in "Women - Love and Revenge"

Soprano Shaked Bar (photo: Yari Marcelli)

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s recent concert presented a program all about “Women – Love and Revenge”. Soloists were Israeli soprano Shaked Bar and the orchestra’s concertmaster Noam Schuss. JBO founder and musical director David Shemer was conductor.  This writer attended the concert at the Jerusalem International YMCA on May 11th 2017.

The program opened with the orchestra’s crisp, vibrant playing of the Overture to G.F.Händel’s opera “Ariadne”, its French-style opening, spirited fugue and minuet not reflective of the Ariadne’s tragedy of which Shaked Bar was to sing in Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna” (1608). The opening of the latter (the only surviving part of the opera that brought Monteverdi worldwide fame) “Lasciatemi morire!” (Let me die!) must be one of the most heart-breaking moments of vocal repertoire. Shaked Bar took the audience through all the stages of Arianna’s despair – her pleading to Theseus to return, her anger at his broken promises and her final facing of the harsh reality of her fate – her performance convincing, nuanced and tastefully ornamented. Another interesting and indeed unique take on the Ariadne story is Pietro Locatelli’s “Il Pianto d’Arianna”, concerto grosso in E-flat major Op.7 No.8. Published in 1741, it is based on the classical story of Ariadne and Theseus, but is also strongly influenced by Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna”. The music focuses almost exclusively on the first violin (Noam Schuss), supported by a second violin (Dafna Ravid), ‘cello (Orit Messer-Jacobi) and string orchestra. Addressing the audience, Maestro Shemer spoke of the violin soloist as portraying Ariadne in a role evocative of a verbal text. It was absolutely so as Schuss convincingly depicted Ariadne and her predicament - in the sobbing undulations of the opening Andante, the sorrowful melodies of slow movements and with suave melodies interrupted by brief pauses as in weeping – in articulate- and subtle performance. The JBO highlighted the interest of the orchestral score too, with its reminiscences of slow movements of Corelli and vivid moments evocative of Vivaldi’s dizzying fast movements, the work’s roller coaster course then ending enigmatically on a major chord.

The program included two small instrumental works by Tarquinio Merula (1567-1643), whose sacred music followed the lead of Monteverdi. His instrumental music includes several ensemble canzonas, with exceptionally idiomatic and forward-looking writing for strings.  In “La Monteverde” Opus 1 No.9, homage to Merula’s great contemporary, Noam Schuss and Orit Messer-Jacobi engaged in the canzona’s imitative- and virtuosic agenda. Schuss and Smadar Schidlowsky dueted in “La Gallina”, a piece based on a theme imitating the clucking of hens. In both pieces, the theorbo (Ophira Zakai) proved paramount to establishing a solid, satisfying bass.

Including a work of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre in the program must be attributed to fine programming. A courageous woman and one of the first female composers to reach a wide public audience, winning admiration and financial security through her music, at least four of her cantatas tell the story of daring women. The story of Judith, a Biblical heroine who saved the Hebrew town of Bethulia from the conquering despot Holofernes, comes from the deuterocanonical book of Judith. When Holofernes seeks to seduce Judith, a beautiful widow, she lulls him with wine into sleep, beheads him, and then escapes with the head. Jacquet de La Guerre’s work, leaning on both French and Italian musical styles, is set to the third person narration of a libretto of Antoine Houdar de La Motte, a well-known poet and dramaturge. With vocal agility, emotion and much poise, Bar played out the genuinely heroic Judith’s very human uncertainty and anguish, her triumph and joy. Only basso continuo accompanies the arias. The players’ detailed attention to the instrumental pieces punctuating the recitatives and arias at strategic moments added an element of fragility, one moving instance of this being Idit Shemer’s plangent, intimate night-music flute solo.

One problem of “Dido’s Lament” from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” is that we have heard so many great and not-so-great sopranos performing it; that, I think must be this flawless piece’s only drawback. Purcell was 30 years old when he composed what is considered the first great dramatic music composed in England. The queen’s famous final aria, “When I am laid in earth,” with its chromatically descending ground bass, marks the despairing climax of this miniature masterpiece.  Purcell’s use of falling seconds in the instrumental accompaniment and in the soloist’s recitative melody evoke despair and fate, but it is all the dissonances (referred to by Trevor Pinnock as “those sneaky little appoggiaturas”) that also draw the listener into the seamless pain of the piece. With the pensive, serene sounds of the theorbo (Ophira Zakai) issuing in the recitative, we join Dido in her last moments, as she refers to death as a “welcome guest”. Bar’s performance was tasteful, delicate, finely ornamented and controlled, her diction excellent. Rather than lacing the aria with pulpy drama, Bar chose to suspend the “Remember me” fragments and phrases weightlessly as Dido dies longing for oblivion, the singer’s creamy voice floating up to the top “g” with delicacy. A moving performance by all.

Händel’s solo cantata “La Lucrezia” HWV 145, composed some time between 1706 and 1709 in Italy, to a libretto of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, is actually a small opera “scena” focusing on the inner turmoil Lucretia faced following her rape and leading up to her suicide. In its succession of recitatives and arias, bearing detailed description of Lucretia’s feelings before she takes her own life, particular emphasis is placed on her impassioned hatred of Tarquinius. Despite its dramatic content, Händel scored the work for soprano soloist and continuo. The JBO performance of “La Lucrezia” premiered Israeli musicologist Alon Schab’s instrumental setting of the work, in which he has added violin- and viola parts. Shaked Bar handled the work’s emotional and technical demands admirably, moving through melismatic passages and between registers with ease and elaborating da capo sections effectively. The cantata and, indeed, the concert ended with Bar’s gripping performance of the final arioso, in which Lucretia, about to knife herself, condemns her soul to hell “to punish the tyrant…with the barbarous cruelty he deserves…”

An ambitious undertaking for any soprano, young Shaked Bar’s performance throughout the concert was admirable.



No comments: