Monday, March 26, 2018

From Magnificat to Magnificat at the 2018 Bach in Jerusalem Festival

Philippe Pierlot  - Magnificats of J.S.Bach, C.P.E.Bach  (Maxim Reider)
The 3rd Bach in Jerusalem Festival, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, took place from March 17th to 21st 2018, the final day of the festival falling on Johann Sebastian Bach’s 333rd birthday! Prof. David Shemer, founder and director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, serves as musical director of the Bach in Jerusalem Festival.

With the central theme of this year’s Bach in Jerusalem Festival being the Magnificat and its various settings, visiting conductor Philippe Pierlot (Belgium) conducted the Cecilia Soloists Ensemble (director: Guy Pelc) and Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra players in two Bach Magnificats - that of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and that of the elder Johann Sebastian Bach. This writer attended the concert at the Jerusalem International YMCA on March 17th.  Both Magnificats are written in the festive key of D-major. In his program notes, Maestro David Shemer wrote: “We cannot...ignore the fact that Carl Philipp Emanuel, still a young composer in his 30s when he composed his Magnificat, was not entirely free of his father’s influence. Even so, the musical language of both Magnificats is different, clearly pointing to a difference of style between that of the older Bach, whose work constitutes a high point of the Baroque period, and that of his son, who was now turning to the new galant manner of expression…” Pierlot’s energetic direction highlighted the immediacy of Carl Philipp Emanuel’s music — its abrupt harmony shifts, strange modulations, unusual turns of melody, changes of texture and dramatic pauses - with its delicacy accomplished by assimilating Baroque ornamentation into his new style. Offering fine opportunities to soloists, we heard the “Quia respexit” (He hath regarded the low estate) sung expressively by soprano Tom Ben Yishai, a skillfully handled and gripping ”Quia fecit” (He that is mighty) by tenor Richard Resch (Germany),Guy Pelc’s portrayal of  strength in in the “Fecit potentiam” (He has shown strength) and Avital Dery’s  gracefully engaging “Suscepit Israel” (He has helped his servant Israel), the latter joined by Idit Shemer and Geneviève Blanchard on flutes. Adding to the work’s joyful, triumphant mood were the three D trumpets - David Staff (UK), Jean-Charles Denis (France), Einat Kalitzky (Israel-Switzerland) - the “Et misericordia” (Mercy) with its dynamic changes from piano to forte depicting the scope of all generations and, finally, the two richly scored contrapuntal closing movements. C.P.E.Bach certainly stood by his belief when he claimed that “music must, first and foremost, stir the heart”.

J.S.Bach’s Magnificat, also in the key of D-major, followed with no less elation and exaltation, freshness and vitality. There can be few choral movements more exciting or arresting than the pulsing “Omnes generationes” (All generations), the generous word-painting firing the “Fecit potentiam”, the five-part fugal structure of Sicut locutus est (As He spoke to our fathers) or the work’s dazzling conclusion. Small in number, the effective and powerful presence of the small  Cecilia Vocalists Ensemble performing here in both Bach Magnificats were yet another endorsement of Maestro Andrew Parrott’s claim to this practice as being authentic. As to the work’s solos and duets, mezzo-soprano Avital Dery’s singing of the “Et exultavit” (My soul magnifies the Lord) was all shape and meaning, soprano Hadas Faran-Asia’s bright lucidity of sound coupled pleasingly with the somewhat melancholy oboe d’amore (Aviad Gershoni) in the “Quia respexit”, bass Yoav Meir Weiss’s gracefully flowing and rich vocal colors in the “Quia fecit” were rewarding, with Richard Resch’s forthright “Deposuit potentes” depiction of “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” and alto Zlata Hershberg’s touching “Esurientes” (The hungry he has filled with good things) joined by the poignant flute sounds of Shemer and Blanchard. Maestro Pierlot’s direction made for an inspired and inspiring presentation of both Magnificats.

Taking place in the intimate surroundings of the auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim on March 21st, “The Small Magnificats” was a chamber concert of  settings of the Magnificat by a number of other Baroque composers as well as other works inspired by it. The concert was directed by Prof. David Shemer, founder and director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. Making up the vocal ensemble were young artists Adaya Peled-soprano and Jonathan Suissa-tenor, together with David Feldman-countertenor and Yair Polishook-bass. They were joined by violinists Dafna Ravid and Sharon Cohen, Tami Borenstein-viola, Lucia D’Anna-’cello and Hagai Zehavi-double bass, with David Shemer conducting from the organ. Works of Johann Pachelbel, beginning with his well-known canon, constituted a major part of the program. Pachelbel’s small but complete four-voiced Magnificat P.246 (also in D-major!) lasting all of five minutes consists of mostly homophonic movements following in close succession. Young soprano Adaya Peled held the top (melodic) part competently. Among the most expressive pieces ever composed for organ or keyboard are Pachelbel’s 95 short, preludial fugues on the Magnificat. Displaying the composer’s mastery of harmony and counterpoint, many of these works do not require a pedal. To the great interest and delight of the audience at the Jerusalem Music Centre, David Shemer performed four of them on the positiv organ. And there were two more choral Magnificats to follow. One was Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Magnificat H.73 for three male voices, two violins and continuo. A brilliant composition, it is set as an extended ostinato aria over a g-minor tetrachord ground. The singers presented a spirited reading of its text of ideas, key words and rhetoric over the 89 ground figures, daring harmonies and textures. With the three very different singers - Jonathan Suissa with his young, lively natural vocal sound, Yair Polishook’s well-sculpted richly-colored bass and David Feldman’s substantial counter tenor timbre - there was much interest provided by the instrumentalists, whose exuberant ensemble sections dovetailed in with the sung sections.The other and final Magnificat setting was  that of Antonio Vivaldi, in which singers and instrumentalists created a fine blend of Vivaldi’s choral styles in and around brief solo sections, retaining the work’s intensity and emotional content. Choruses were impactful and exciting, with the “Et misericordia” creating a marvellous and moving moment. Soloists were Adaya Peled and David Feldman.

Festival-goers interested to hear more on the subject of Magnificat settings were invited to attend a symposium at the Jerusalem Music Centre on March 21st, the actual day commemorating Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth 333 years ago. Convened and opened by Dr. Alon Schab (Haifa University), we heard Mr. Benjamin Leins of the Bach House (Eisenach, Germany) outlining the origins and history of the Magnificat setting, Dr. Yonatan Bar Yoshafat (The Open University of Israel) talking about C.P.E.Bach’s Magnificat and Dr. Boriss Avramecs (Latvian University) discussing contemporary settings of the Magnificat in the USA, UK, Europe and, in particular, by composers around the Baltic Sea.


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