Monday, December 29, 2008

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem - Concert for Life and Peace

The Concert for Life and Peace is a yearly event that takes place both in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Initiated and produced by Rino Maenza, under the auspices of the Association for Life and Peace, the project began in Christmas of 2001 and is a gesture of friendship, solidarity and hope to the people of Palestine and Israel by the President of the Italian Republic, the Italian Senate, several Italian regional authorities as well as private companies. This year’s concert featured the Capella della Pieta de’ Turchini Orchestra. Formed in Naples in 1987 by its present conductor Antonio Florio, the ensemble is made up of instrumentalists and singers who specialize in the performance of Neapolitan music from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and places importance on performing works of little-known composers. This concert included much Christmas content.

Following words of greeting in Italian, Hebrew and English and the lighting of candles for the first night of Chanukah (the Feast of Lights), the orchestra opened its concert with Angelo Ragazzi’s (c.1680-1750) “Sonata Pastorale” for violin solo and strings. This was followed by Oratio Giaccio’s “Peccatori Su Su”. Giaccio was born in Aversa towards the end of the sixteenth century, composing only secular music before his ordination as a monk in 1620, after which he composed mostly sacred music till his death in Naples towards 1660. The audience enjoyed this attractive pastoral chaconne, scored for strings, harpsichord, Baroque guitar, recorders and percussion, with its folksy, lilting, dance-like refrain, the artists performing without their conductor. Florio gave it a delicate reading. Tenor Giusseppe de Vittorio, remembered for his entertaining and theatrical performance with “Accordone” in the 2008 Israel Festival, is most suited, both vocally and in his freedom on the stage, to music of the folk genre and his Italian good nature lights up the concert hall. He was joined by Rosario Totaro; Totaro’s voice is more of the opera timbre, yet their voices blended well, their sense of timing balancing a sense of spontaneity. The orchestra was again joined by the two tenors in Bonaventura Cerronio’s “Gaudiamus Omnes” (Let Us Rejoice in the Lord), a mosaic of small sections with instrumental ritornelli.

Composer, violinist and organist, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1720-1736) was born in Jesi but moved to Naples in 1725, where he spent his working life in the service of aristocratic patrons, dying of tuberculosis at the tender age of 26. Maria Ercolano was the soloist in Pergolesi’s “Salve Regina” in A minor for soprano and strings. Composed in Latin during the Middle Ages, the verbal text is predominantly used in the Catholic church.
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness and our hope
To you we cry, the children of Eve,
To you we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this land of exile….”
Considering the fact that this is a Baroque work, Ercolano, an opera singer trained in Naples, uses much vibrato, but she has much presence, her voice has color and depth, she is convincing both in tragic and in joyful moments and her phrases are well crafted. Her performance of the work was detailed, profound and devotional.

Composer Emanuele Barbella (1717-1777) was born in Naples, working there as a violinist and teacher. Florio gave his lullaby, “Ninna Nonna” for strings and guitar, a dynamic reading characterized by dynamics sometimes ranging from piano to pianissimo, giving it real delicacy. Another Neapolitan composer, Nicola Fago (1677-1745), spent his life directing church music. His oeuvre includes operas, secular cantatas and arias and much sacred music. “Quid hic statis pastores” (There Were Shepherds Standing Here) is a Christmas motet scored for soprano, alto and instrumental ensemble, consisting of recitatives, duets and arias. Taking part in this joyful work was soprano Enas Massalha . Massalha, born in Nazareth, studied in Israel and performs widely in Europe. Those of us who heard her in the 2007 Concert for Life and Peace were interested and delighted to hear her once again this year. In the “Gloria” from Pietro Antonio Gallo’s “Messa in pastorale”, Florio, once more, made use of his palette of dynamic color.

Composer, musicologist, playwright and director Roberto De Simone, born in Naples in 1933, broke off a promising career as a concert pianist to study Anthropology and Ethnomusicology, researching shepherding and farming culture in Campania. In his version of the traditional “La Santa Allegrezza”, we are hard put to stay seated with this spirited, foot-tapping, strophic piece sung by both tenors and bass Sergio Petrarca, with recorders, pizzicato in ‘cello and double bass and the joviality of a tambourine to add to the dance-like quality. The concert ended with a tarantella from Cristofero Caresana’s (c.1640-1709) “Per la Nascita del Verbo”, a piece illustrating the vivacity and liveliness of Neapolitan music of the time, in particular, at Christmas. Opening with an ostinato on guitar and bass instruments, we begin to hear sections sung by tenors and bass, sections sung by the women, as well as a variety of little vocal solos, lovely recorder-playing and the joy of music-making so typical of Italian singers and players. The piece ended as it began, with just the few strand.

The annual Concert for Life and Peace is always a lively, festive affair. Antonio Florio guides his players with precision and understatement. His instrumentalists (and singers) blend well rather than taking on the character of an “orchestra of soloists”. A program of Neapolitan music, performed by a Neapolitan ensemble, has much to interest the concert audience. Fuller program notes, including texts of vocal works, would have been welcome, considering the number of little-known composers represented in the concert and the fact that Neapolitan Italian has its own expressions and nuances not always clear to all who understand basic Italian..

“From Bethlehem to Jerusalem” – Concert for Life and Peace
Capella della Pieta de’Turchini Orchestra
Antonio Florio-conductor
Maria Ercolano, Enas Massalha-sopranos
Alexandra Chebat-mezzo-soprano
Guiseppe De Vittorio, Rosario Totaro-tenors
Sergio Petrarca-bass
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre
December 21 2008.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

La Serva Padrona - Pergolesi and Paisiello

Have you ever seen two operas by two composers using the same libretto performed as one performance in one evening and on one stage? This was precisely the case on Sunday December 14 2008 at the Hirsch Theater of Mercaz Shimshon in Jerusalem. The concept was that of Ilya Plotkin, conductor and musical director of the Musica Aeterna Choir and Opera Aeterna.

Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) had his opera buffa “La Serva Padrona” – The Servant Mistress - (libretto by G. A. Federico, after a play by A. Nelli) premiered in 1733. It served as an intermezzo, a comic operatic interlude, inserted between acts or scenes of an opera seria, in this case, of “Il Prigioner Superbo” – The Proud Prisoner - also composed by Pergolesi. In the meantime, La Serva Padrona has been performed much as a separate and popular opera.

Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), also Italian, was a successful and influential opera composer, writing 94 operas, of which we know. In 1776, Paisiello was invited by Empress Catherine II of Russia to St Petersburg, where he remained for eight years. It was there that he composed his “La Serva Padrona” in 1781.

The story is that of a chambermaid, Serpina, deceiving her master into marriage and is presented in a combination of pantomime, music and comedy of deception, thus fulfilling the function of the “intermezzo”, which was to provide light entertainment and relief from the more serious opera. The characters are Uberto (bass) a bachelor, Serpina (soprano) his maid, and Vespone, Uberto’s valet, who plays a silent role. In the Plotkin concept, there is an extra character – Cupid, the god of love.

The curtain goes up. Ilya Plotkin and his ensemble of string players from the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and two keyboard players are seated at the back of the stage. The stage is eye-catching and tasteful in its sumptuous fabrics and is divided into two symmetrical sides - one side furnished in gold, one side in black. On each bed, an Uberto sprawls out in deep slumber. The enigma of how the two operas can be combined begins to unravel. On the Paisiello side of the stage, Shirelle Dashevsky will play Serpina and Alexei Kanunikov, Uberto; on the the Pergolesi side of the stage, Ekaterina Chepelev with play Serpina and Andrei Trifonov will be Pergolesi’s Uberto. Following the overture, we begin to hear the same text of each aria performed as both Pergolesi and Paisiello composed it. Only at the end do both couples sing together. You could call it seeing double, or, should I say, seeing and hearing double.

Itzhak Pekar, as Vespone, is cast as a mute, but in our performance, he ungags himself in order to be the narrator in a whimsical flow of Hebrew patter, with a word of Italian thrown in here and there. In addition to his articulate speech, Pekar is a fine opera buffa style clown, holding the whole doubled up plot together. Tenor Dmitry Seminov as Cupid, wearing a pastel-colored dress and blond wig, delighted us with his musical renditions of some well-loved arias, of those sung frequently by voice students. Cupid here belongs to both operas, leaving him free to dance with both servant girls.

Reveling in the many lovely solos and duets, both couples (servant and master) brought the libretto text alive in the finest of operatic singing. The singers are all Russian-trained. Shirelle Dashevsky shone with her coquetish sweetness and delightful stage presence. The instrumental ensemble provided fine support for the singers, with the keyboard in the harpsichord register for some pieces, creating a Baroque effect. Costumes were nicely designed and colorful. Opera Aeterna’s yearly performance is a festive event to which the Jerusalem audience looks forward. This was especially enjoyable, joyful, different, surprising, and new in concept. The audience was enthusiastic. Another excellent performance, Aeterna; let’s have more opera in Jerusalem!

“La Serva Padrona”
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Giovanni Paisiello
Opera Aeterna
Ilya Plotkin-musical director and conductor
Irena Tkachenko-stage design and production
Julia Plakhin-assistant director
Andrei Trifonov, Alexei Kanunikov-Uberto
Ekaterina Chepelov, Shirelle Dashevsky-Serpina
Itzhak Pekar-Vespone
Dmitry Semenov-Cupid
Hirsch Theatre, Mercaz Shimshon, Jerusalem
December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Raving Winds" - Haydn's Scottish Songs and early keyboard trios

It was December 3, 2008 and we were at St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem, to hear “Raving Winds” – with Soloists of the PHOENIX Ensemble performing some of Haydn’s Scottish song arrangements and two of his keyboard trios. Soprano Tamar Kleinberger was joined by Yasuko Hirata (Baroque violin), Michael Borgstede (harpsichord) and Phoenix’s musical director Dr. Myrna Herzog (Baroque ‘cello.)

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) first became acquainted with Scottish songs when in London from 1791 to 1792, where he had arranged a few of them as a favor to a publisher friend, William Napier, who was in financial straits. Between 1791 and 1805 Haydn wrote arrangements of almost 400 Scottish songs, most of them for voice and trio, for other publishers, 214 of them, however, commissioned by the Edinburgh publisher George Thomson, who included Pleyel, Kozeluch, Hummel, Weber and Beethoven in his project to collect, edit and publish Scottish, Irish and Welsh folksongs; Thomson’s aim was both to preserve them and provide performance material suitable for amateur musicians, now that there was much music-making in private homes. Haydn’s arrangements, therefore, are a marriage of the gamut of Scottish folk tradition and superb instrumental writing. In addition to traditional folk poems, they include texts by Robert Burns, Alexander Boswell, Anne Grant, Joanna Baillie and Walter Scott. The songs offer some whimsical home truths, they also tell of love, (idyllic and less so), honor and pride, happiness and heartbreak and, in keeping with Scotland’s history, of war. We heard them as scored by Haydn.

“Raving winds around her blowing,
Yellow leaves the woodlands strowing,
By a river hoarsely roaring,
Isabella stray’d deploring –
‘Farewell hours that late did measure
Sunshine days of joy and pleasure!
Hail, thou gloomy night of sorrow-
Cheerless night that knows no morrow!” Robert Burns

Thus began the concert, with Kleinberger’s robust, direct performance of this typically Scottish pentatonic melody, cushioned in instrumental textures no less engaging, taking the audience into the freshness and directness of these songs, which are true gems. Follow the words and the gentle, tongue-in-cheek Scottish humor in so many of them will easily become apparent. In “The Shepherd’s Son”, where the young man sees a lady swimming in a brook and urges her to spend her time in a more suitable manner – sewing, we hear the grinding action of the sewing machine in the accompaniment. On a more serious note, “The White Cockade” (Robert Burns), referring to the Jacobite troops who had no uniform besides the emblem of a white cockade (rosette) on a blue bonnet, tells of a young woman whose love has gone off to war; she is willing to leave everything behind and follow him. Kleinberger’s strong background in theatre as well as the English language made for a performance of convincing directness. She has a large, powerful voice but, unfortunately, with the acoustic of the Scottish Church tending to blur words, both spoken and sung, much of the verbal text was indistinct. The printed program was, therefore, necessary and valuable in its information on each of the songs.

The instrumental trio played two early Haydn trios. The early piano trios were composed in mid- to end of 1750’s, when Haydn was musical director to Count Ferdinand Maximilian Franz Morzin. Reflecting characteristics of the Baroque trio sonata, Haydn gives the two trios – that in F major, Hoboken XV: 40 (1760) and that in G major, Hoboken XV: 41 –the title of “Partita” and “Divertimento” respectively, and we hear the ‘cello in its baroque capacity. With harpsichords still widely in use around 1800, it stands to reason that these early trios might well have been performed using the harpsichord. Michael Borgstede’s playing was articulate, ornamented and brilliant, well matched in character to the definite, strongly-profiled style of Yasuko Hirata, enriched and firmly grounded with Myrna Herzog’s secure and highly expressive ‘cello playing. The performance brought out much Haydnesque happiness, sensitive timing and crafted phrase endings; it was a balance between individual expression and the interaction of fine chamber musicians. What was clear to the audience was the sheer joy experienced by the players in performing these works.

Herzog’s creative programs take the audience on a variety of musical adventures. This program provided a rare opportunity to hear these marvelous Haydn Scottish song arrangements and it was an opportunity not to be missed at the hands of such fine musicians. I, myself am looking forward to hearing another performance of the same concert but in a hall with better acoustics; as a lover of lyrics, I would like to follow them word by word!

Joseph Haydn: Scottish Songs and Keyboard Trios
Soloists of Ensemble PHOENIX
Tamar Kleinberger-soprano
Yasuko Hirata-Baroque violin
Myrna Herzog-Baroque ‘cello
Michael Borgstede-harpsichord
St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem
December 3, 2008.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

J.S.Bach, Mass in B minor BWV 232

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem opened its “Voices and Instruments” series of the 2008-2009 season with J.S.Bach’s Mass in B minor BWV 232, conducted by the orchestra’s musical director, Avner Biron. Soloists were Israeli artists - soprano Aviv Weinberg, alto Noa Frenkel, tenor Eitan Drori and British bass Jonathan Gunthorpe. The choir was the New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, directed by Yuval Ben-Ozer.

In 1733, Bach dedicated a “Kyrie” and “Crucifixus” to Friedrich Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, who had converted to Catholicism, hoping to become king of Poland. During the following fifteen years, Bach expanded this Missa Brevis, borrowing from his German cantatas and other existing works, both sacred and secular, producing a compendium of all the styles he had used in writing arias and choruses throughout his life; his use of elements from Gregorian chant and stile antico writing to an almost galant idiom gives the work a sense of timelessness. It is a remarkable feat that Bach shaped a coherent sequence of movements from all the different pieces, at the same time building the finished work’s general structure in keeping with his concern for symmetry. As a deeply religious man, the composer utilized the most emotional means at his disposal for the Credo – the centerpiece of both the work and his own conviction. The Mass in B minor, as we know it today, was assembled a year or two before the composer’s death. Bach was never to hear this monumental work performed during his lifetime; in fact, Bach scholars believe the work was only first performed in its entirety in 1859 in Leipzig, possibly due to the fact that there had been no complete edition of it till 1845.

Biron, with excellent instrumentalists and a very fine choir at hand, presented a performance which emphasized the contrasts, textures and emotional content of the work. The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, under the guidance of Yuval Ben-Ozer, produced a wonderful choral blend of textures, fine legato singing and a gamut of emotions – from compassion, to tranquility, as in the “Kyrie”, to the joy of the “Gloria”, to the tragic message of “Qui tollis” - controlled, mysterious and understated, with attention to each dissonance and tension. The choir’s singing was bright and accurate in the “Cum sancto” with articulate, brilliantly executed melismatic lines. The “Et incarnatus” was a magical, moving movement, with Biron changing the dynamics with each harmonic change. The “Confiteor”, beginning quite fast, suddenly plunges the listener into the mysterious Adagio section of harmonic tension fraught with diminished chords which bristle with tritones, moving back to a Vivace e Allegro, alive with brassy pomp.

Alto Noa Frenkel performs opera and repertoire from Renaissance- to contemporary music. Her rich vocal color and sensitive reading of the work delighted the audience, from the well-phrased, expressive “Laudamus te”, to the clearly defined “Qui sedes”, the latter involving superb playing of the obbligato oboe on the part of Muki Zohar.

Tenor Eitan Drori (b.1985) is heard performing much early music. He handled his “Benedictus” aria with competence, imbuing it with feeling and color; the flute obbligato in this aria was a treat.

Not to be ignored was the much fine instrumental playing, here and there a little too loud for the singers, but adding excitement and interest in Biron’s interpretation of this much-loved work. The printed program is attractive and informative; translation of the Latin text of the Mass into Hebrew was not always accurate. It was no wonder that the Henry Crown Symphony Hall was packed to capacity. It was an uplifting evening and a fine beginning to the “Voices and Instruments” series.

Johann Sebastien Bach – Mass in B minor, BWV 232
The Israel Camerata Jerusalem
Avner Biron-musical director, conductor
Aviv Weinberg-soprano
Noa Frenkel-alto
Eitan Drori-tenor
Jonathan Gunthorpe-bass
The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, Yuval Ben-Ozer-musical director
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre
December 1, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tour of Baroque Europe, Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra is currently celebrating twenty years of musical performance. The orchestra was founded by conductor, researcher, teacher and harpsichordist Dr David Shemer, who has been its musical director since its establishment. Shemer places emphasis on authentic performance and on the use of period instruments. The first concert of the JBO’s 2008-2009 concert season was a “Tour of Baroque Europe” and was led by British violinist, Margaret Faultless. A leader of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and other ensembles, Faultless teaches and performs widely, being dedicated to historical performance of Baroque music.

Italian virtuoso violinist, teacher and composer, Arcangello Corelli (1653-1713), certainly took the “tour of Baroque Europe”, was quick in making a reputation for himself in Europe, had his first success in Paris at age 19, possibly traveled to Spain, went into the service of the electoral Prince of Bavaria in 1681, was in Rome in 1685, was in Modena from 1689 to 1690, later returning to Rome. His 12 Concerti Grossi, opus 6, some of the finest examples of the Baroque-style concerto grosso, were heard in Rome as early as 1682, but were only published in 1714. In them, he established a fixed concertino string trio of two violins and ‘cello. Corelli’s Concerto Grosso opus 6 no.4 opened the evening’s program. A sonata da chiesa, it begins with a short adagio movement. The audience enjoyed Faultless’ refreshing energetic approach to string playing. In the Adagio, we were lured into the magic of changing harmonies. The concertino section consisted of Faultless and Noam Schuss (violins) and Katharine Abrahams (‘cello).

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764), a child prodigy on the violin, was sent to Rome to study under Corelli. He traveled and performed widely, receiving rapturous acclaim for his playing. Not wishing to spend his life as a court musician, he settled in Amsterdam, absenting himself from the local concert scene and refusing to accept students; he worked there as an Italian music master, unfettered by court or church and where he was offered ample opportunities to publish his works. His Violin Concerto “Il Pianto d’Arianna” Opus 7, published 1741, is, in fact, an instrumental cantata, in which the role of Arianna is “sung” by solo violin and the orchestra takes on the function of the chorus of a Greek tragedy. Referred to it by Faultless in her introduction as a “tone poem”, this work, of the “introduttione teatrale” (theatrical introductions) genre, is proof of the compositional freedom Locatelli enjoyed. It includes recitative and arioso-like textures, taking the listener through tempo- and mood changes, reflecting Ariadne’s shifts in emotion. Faultless plays out the drama, its hope and despair; she has stepped into Ariadne’s shoes, leaving the audience moved and convinced that there was no need for any verbal text.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) received training as a priest but also in violin and harpsichord. His first official post was as the “maestro di violino” at the Pio Ospidale della Pieta, a girls’ orphanage in Venice providing intensive musical training to girls with aptitude. Known as “il preto rosso” (the red-headed priest) he was vain and bad-tempered but his temperament, extroverted personality and energy were the forces behind the distinctive style of his oeuvre. “L’Estro Armonico” (Harmonic Inspiration or Harmonic Whim) was issued as a set of 12 concertos in 1711 and made Vivaldi’s reputation in Europe. Both embellishment of solo parts and realization of the continuo are challenging aspects of these works. On this subject, German flautist, flute-maker and composer J.J.Quantz wrote “One ought to avoid varying the lyrical ideas of which one does not easily tire, and, likewise, the brilliant passages which have a sufficiently pleasing melody themselves”. Of the set, it was the 11th concerto that generated the most comment and imitation. Joining Faultless in the Concerto for 2 violins from L’Estro Armonico, opus 3 no.11, was Noam Schuss, the JBO’s concertmaster. Schuss, a Baroque specialist and soloist teaches, conducts, plays in the Tel Aviv Soloists’ Orchestra and is first violinist in the Galathea String Quartet. Baroque ‘cellist and recorder-player Katharine Abrahams has performed in Israel and Europe in performances ranging from solo recitals to theatre productions, chamber music to orchestral concerts and with the “Mediva” Early Music Ensemble. The Vivaldi concerto opened with intensive interaction between both solo violinists. In the masterfully written fugue, soloists and orchestra brought out the profile of shapes and textures, articulately guiding the listener through the fugual maze.

The next two works in the program were inspired by Shakespeare plays. Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) Suite from the Fairy Queen, composed in 1692, one of his last works, is a Restoration masque, or semi-opera, loosely based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and was probably composed for William and Mary’s 15th wedding anniversary. Purcell provided incidental music for more than 40 plays. The suite begins with a Prelude-Hornpipe and an Air-Rondeau, which would have been played as people in the audience were taking their seats. The other pieces include some of the many dances from the masque. Opening with a forthright, accented and nuanced reading of the Prelude, the Hornpipe was colored with contrasted gestures. Following the humble Air, we heard Katharine Abrahams now on recorder in the melodic Rondeau, swayed gently in the inegalstyle of Baroque playing. The Jig was joyful, with percussion here giving it energy and abandon. In the Chaconne: Dance for Chinese Man or Woman we enjoyed the variety of color offered by changing instrumentation from section to section. Altogether, Faultless constantly reminds us that we have come to be entertained, and entertained we were!

Matthew Locke (1621-1677) flourished when Charles II returned from exile to the English throne in 1660, scoring the processional march for his coronation in 1661. It seems Locke was in exile with the royalists, possibly in the Netherlands, returning to England in 1651, by which time he was already a composer of repute, being one of the first English composers to write music for the stage. In 1661, he was appointed composer to the king’s private band at forty pounds a year. He and Henry Purcell were friends; Purcell learned much from him, eventually succeeding him as Composer in Ordinary to the king. The JBO performed Locke’s Suite from the incidental music to “The Tempest” to the text by Thomas Shadwell (c.1642-1692), an English playwright whose drama “The Tempest” also known as “The Enchanted Island” was published and first performed in 1674. Introduced by Faultless, who talked about the play’s amazing sets and effects, we heard pieces from the incidental music. The Saraband was highly melodic, embellished by hemiolas and ornaments. The remarkable final Curtain Tune, with its extended crescendo and accelerando, followed by a long diminuendo and rallentando, was drama itself.

Italian violinist virtuoso and composer Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) studied with Corelli and A.Scarlatti and made his living teaching- and writing music and also collecting art. He arrived in England in 1716, becoming hugely popular, his greatest commercial success being his concerto grosso arrangements of Corelli’s 12 violin sonatas, which appeared in 1726. Geminiani’s imaginative arrangement for string orchestra of the famous La Folia Variations of his Concerto Grosso no 2 is surely a tour-de-force, going far beyond being just an arrangement. With Faultless, Schuss and Abrahams constituting the concertino section, the audience was swept off its feet by the constantly changing scene of instrumentation, boldness of sound and strictly held tempi set off by superb solos, rich, smooth, transparent string-playing and a gamut of emotions. With Geminiani’s La Folia Variations after Corelli’s Violin Sonata opus 5 no. 12, the program had come the full circle.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2008-2009 got off to a brilliant start. Margaret Faultless’ inspirational leading and interpretation made for an evening of exciting music, the program itself being full of interest. There was magic in the air. The JBO’s printed program has undergone a face-lift, looks attractive and now appears in both Hebrew and English but is somewhat less detailed than the highly informative programs written by Shemer in previous years.

“Tour of Baroque Europe”
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in cooperation with the Jerusalem Music Centre and the Early Music Workshop
David Shemer-musical director
Margaret Faultless-conductor and violin
Noam Schuss-violin
Katharine Abrahams-‘cello
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship
The Jerusalem YMCA
November 16, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anna Magdalena Bach, At Home With Bach

The Barrocade Ensemble opened its second season with a concert of music by J.S.Bach (1685-1750) as well as composers whose works were copied into the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebooks, calling it “Anna Magdalena Bach. At Home with Bach”. The concert was dedicated to the memory of American-born oboist Matthew Peaceman (1956-2008), known for his interest in early- and modern oboe music and, particularly, in Jewish music

The Brandenburg Concertos are a highlight of one of the happiest and most productive periods of J.S.Bach’s life. As Kapellmeister in Coethen, he was composing music at the court of Prince Leoplold, a great music lover. Based on the Italian concerto grosso style, the concertos were compiled from instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements Bach had already written. In 1721, Bach presented the Margrave of Brandenburg with a bound manuscript of the six concertos. The Margrave never thanked or paid the composer. When Bach played chamber music, he usually played the viola; but in the 5th Brandenburg Concerto, he scores it for harpsichord, and what a brilliant role it is, too! It has been referred to as some as the first ever solo keyboard concerto and it is supposed that Bach himself was at the harpsichord. With a somewhat split personality, the harpsichord joins both the concertino and ripieno groups. Shlomit Sivan (violin), Boaz Berney (flute) and Yizhar Karshon (harpsichord) provided the concertino, entertaining the audience royally with well sculpted phrasing, contrasted interludes and energy. At times, Berney’s elegant playing did not come through clearly enough in the YMCA hall, a problem of playing Baroque flute in a large hall. The long harpsichord cadenza of the first movement was handled brilliantly by Karshon. The intimate second movement, Affetuoso, scored for just violin, flute and harpsichord, was delicate and shaped, with the final Allegro lively but also delicate, once more offering the harpsichord much to say.

Of the few secular cantatas Bach composed, “Non sa che sia dolore” (He Knows Not What it is to Suffer) is the only one set to an Italian text. The text tells of the departure of a young man going to sea on his military service. Bach composed the cantata after 1729, but it is not known who wrote the words; the poet, however, does draw on passages written by G.B.Guarini and Pietro Metastasio. We do know that the court of Ansbach was known for its predilection for Italian musical performance and that it employed a number of Italian musicians. In fact, Bach’s cantata for solo soprano closely follows the model of those of A.Scarlatti in its adherence to alternating recitative and aria. It strongly features obbligato flute, handled admirably by Kimberly Reine, giving ample opportunity for both flautist and singer to shine. The cantata opens with a lively sinfonia for flute and strings in the form of a concerto. From her first recitative, Ye’ela Avital communicates with her audience. In the first aria, “Parti pur e con dolore”(Depart then and with sorrow), the warmth and color of Avital’s voice are set off by and converse with the flute and with dynamic strands of instrumental textures. In the last aria, with the audience enjoying Barrocade’s fine, multicolored ensemble sound, there is a sense of well-being; Avital embellishes melismatic passages with ease.
‘Do away with anxiety and dread,
Like the steersman, when the wind is calmed,
Who no more fears or turns pale,
But, content on his prow
Goes singing in the face of the sea.’

In 1723, Bach moved to Leipzig, where he worked at St Thomas’ School and was responsible for music in the town’s four churches. His “Inventions and Sinfonias” were written for educational purposes. They demonstrate contrapuntal techniques and musical styles and are a collection of gems. The Inventions are keyboard pieces written in two voices, whereas the Sinfonias, six of which we heard in this concert, are in three voices. The six elegant miniatures were nicely contrasted in key, instrumentation and character, forming a pleasing group.

The second half of the evening presented pieces from the Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach. For some tome now, viol- and violone player, Amit Tiefenbrunn has had the idea in his mind of taking pieces from these collections and performing them with Barrocade. Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, was, herself, a musician, working as a court singer in Coethen, she was a keyboard player and a professional copyist. There are two Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach: that of 1722 consists only of works written by J.S.Bach and that of 1725 – keyboard works, chorale settings and popular arias, includes pieces by various composers. In the chorale “Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten” (If thou but suffer God to guide thee) we heard the melody played on the viola. “Gib dich zufrieden and sei stille” (Be Content and Be Silent) was sung by Avital with instrumental interludes.

Very different from hearing it played on harpsichord was Reine’s performance on Baroque flute of Aria BWV 988 (Theme of the Goldberg Variations) accompanied by theorbo and viol. She punctuated and embellished it, making it dance, sketching it in dainty transparency. The Polonaise in G major, usually attributed to German singer and composer Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), boasted pleasing contrasts of instrumentation.

Avital presented an endearing performance of the aria “Schlummert ein” from J.S.Bach’s cantata “Ich habe genug” BWV 82 (It is Enough), composed in 1727. The aria is perfectly suited to this artist, and the performance was one of compassion together with tranquility, of shaping and sensitive timing, of allowing the text time to unfold, of fine blending of vocal- and instrumental textures.
‘Slumber, my weary eyes,
Fall softly and close in contentment.
O world, I will linger here no more.
For indeed, I find nothing in you
Pleasing to my soul.
Here I am resigned to misery,
But there, there I shall feel
Sweet peace and quiet rest.’

The atmosphere changed with Avital’s performance of the lyrical Aria di Giovannini, BWV 518 “Willst du dein Herz mir schenken” (Wouldst thou thine heart now give me), (poet unknown), telling of the complexities of secret love. With verses alternating between singer and instruments, Avital gives the aria and the advice it offers a coquettish, dance-like and entertaining reading.

The concert ended on a contemplative note with “Bist du bei mir” BWV 508 (Be Thou with me), poet unknown, music by Gottfried Heinrich Stoelzel. Communicating with Barrocade’s secure instrumental approach, Ye’ela Avital wove in the melodic line, letting it breathe, ornamenting it tastefully.

The Barrocade Ensemble’s first concert of the 2008-2009 Season was interestingly programmed. Kimberly Reine’s program notes were informative and set the tone for a musical evening with the Bach family. The audience enjoyed the variety and delicacy of carefully selected pieces and sensitive performance as well as being guests in the Bach home.

“Anna Magdalena Bach. At Home with Bach.”
Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective
Ye’ela Avital-soprano
Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord
Shlomit Sivan-violin
Boaz Berney, Kimberly Reine-flutes
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship,
Jerusalem YMCA,
November 5, 2008


Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Il Pastor Fido", Abu Gosh Festival October 2008

Entering the precincts of the Crusader Church in the last moments of daylight on Monday October 20th, one was invited to forget the pressures and reality of the world outside and to enjoy the peace and tranquility of this verdant courtyard with its 12th century church. The occasion was a concert performed by the “Il Pastor Fido” Ensemble performing Renaissance- and Baroque works as part of the 34th Abu Gosh Vocal Festival (October 18th to 21st, 2008). The group’s name, “Il Pastor Fido” (The Faithful Shepherd) stems from a tragicomedy of the same name, written by the Italian poet Battista Guarini (1532-1612) at a time he was serving as court poet to Duke Alfonso D’Este II in Ferrara. This play had become very popular in 16th century Italy and was the inspiration for many great musical works, like the madrigals of Luca Marenzio, Giaches de Wert, Claudio Monteverdi and others.

Harpsichordist and organist Marina Minkin, born in the Ukraine, teaches, performs and records in Israel and elsewhere. Her doctoral dissertation is a study of Italian composer Anna Bon’s life and work. In the concert, Minkin was playing on a replica of a 1665 Ridolfi harpsichord, built by Thomas Wolf (USA) in 1970.

Born in Rechovot, soprano Michal Okon has degrees in vocal performance and musicology. A versatile musician, Okon’s repertoire ranges from early to contemporary music, from opera to solo performance with orchestras, to performance with Baroque groups to vocal ensembles. Okon records for radio and television.

Alexander Fine, in Israel since 1989, from the FSU, plays bassoon in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra but is also a Baroque musician, playing Baroque bassoons and Baroque oboe. Fine was playing a replica of a 1722-3 Eihentopf bassoon which is in the Nurenberg Museum collection. It was built by Peter de Konning in 1999.

Anna Ioffe came to Israel in 1996 from the FSU and has studied violin, Baroque violin and viola d’amore. She performs and records in ensembles that perform early music with modern and has appeared as soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Ioffe is also a singer.

Growing up in Rechovot, Uri Dror has studied recorder in Israel as well as with many fine European players. A soloist and active chamber musician, Uri teaches, edits and publishes music. In this concert, Dror was playing an F alto recorder after Thomas Stanesby built by Peter van de Poel (Holland), a transitional G alto made by Stephen Bleziger (Germany) and a soprano recorder after Sylvestro Ganassi built by Yoav Ran (Israel.)

The concert opened with Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso no.2 opus 6. Corelli occupied a leading position in the musical life of Rome for some thirty years, performing as a violinist and directing performances. A fine performer on the newly-popular violin, he is considered a founder of modern violin technique; and it was he who proved the potentialities of the concerto grosso form. It was on his Opus 6, his last opus, that Corelli spent many years writing and rewriting the 12 concerti grossi. Scored for violin, recorder and continuo of harpsichord and bassoon, the Concerto Grosso no.2 consists of small sections, much conversation between violin and recorder; mood- and character changes throughout are typical of the Italian temperament in music. In this delightful chamber work, we were treated to well-crafted phrase endings, tasteful ornamenting, and a combination of crystal clear strands together with a fine ensemble sound.

Biagio Marini (1594-1663), an Italian virtuoso violinist and composer, spent his professional life traveling all over Europe, and is best known for his instrumental music and his contribution to string idiom. His “Scherzi e Canzonette”, opus 5, were composed in Parma in 1622 and incorporate explicit instrumental ideas. Written for one or two voices with instrumental ritornelli, we heard three of the songs performed by soprano Michal Okon, with recorder, violin and harpsichord. Performance was clean, measured and articulate, with Okon’s creamy voice and warmth delighting the audience. Following “Invita a l’allegressa”(Invitation to Joy), with voice conversing with the violin, the second song, “Desio di sguardi” (Desire for Glances) gives Dror, playing a Renaissance recorder, solos, adding interest and embellishment. The third song, “Donna che loda il canto di bellisimo giovanetto” (A Woman who Praises the Song of a Youth), with recorder and violin conversing, was articulate, measured and charming.

Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752) was a German-born composer, viola- and harpsichord player, who spent most of his working life in England, where he became known as John Christopher Pepusch. “Corydon”, Cantata V from his “Six English Cantatas” of 1710, with text by the poet John Hughes (1677-1720), is one of many secular English cantatas on the subject of lonely shepherds. It was performed here by Okon, with Dror, Minkin and Fine. Following the opening recitative, we heard the da capo aria “Gay charmer, to befriend thee…” with its enticing recorder obbligato. The short cantata ends with “Who, from Love his Heart securing…”performed whimsically, with ornaments to charm and hemiolas to confuse the senses, ending the work in dance-like grace.

Elizabethan composer Thomas Morley (1557/8-1602) referred to his canzonets as a “lighter form of madrigal”. His “The First Books of Canzonetts to two voyces” (1597) contains songs for two voices plus some instrumental fantasias. Okon and Dror chose to perform two, the first being “Sweet nymph, come to thy lover”, with Dror “singing” the second voice on recorder. The artists, nevertheless, brought out the interactive aspects, engaging in Morley’s rhythmical, contrapuntal hide-and seek. The second canzonet, “Miraculous Love’s Wounding”, with its bitter-sweet duality, sets a mournful tone, with Okon and Dror presenting the individuality of two melodic lines and a mix ofmodes, in accordance with the text:
“Miraculous love’s wounding!
Even those darts, my sweet Phyllis,
So fiercely shot against my heart rebounding,
Are turned to roses, violets and lilies,
With odour sweet abounding.”

As the central figure in the French school of bass viol composers, teachers and performers, Marain Marais’ (1656-1728) works were widely performed during his lifetime, also outside of France. We heard the second piece of his “Pieces en trio pour les flutes, violins et dessus de viole”, published in 1692. This collection appears to be the first of its kind in Europe. The ensemble presented it with true French court elegance, with flowing, expressive melodic development and typical French-style inegal rhythms. In the last movement, a Passacaille, the players added variety and delicate touches to the variations along side the strict ostinato basis of the piece.

French composer, teacher and theorist, Michel Pignolet de Monteclair (1667-1737) played the basse de violon and double bass in the Paris Opera orchestras. His oeuvre includes twenty French- and four Italian cantatas. “La Bergere” (The Shepherdess) is from his third book of cantatas (1728). Okon’s convincing performance invites the listener to join her in the pastoral atmosphere of the piece; we follow her from narrative to dances, through the tense third movement to the dotted, slow final piece (complete with bird calls) suggestive of idyllic tranquility and sleep.

Giovanni Battista Riccio flourished from 1609 to 1621. His motet “Iubilent Omnes” from the Third Book of Sacred Music of Praise (Venice 1620) is rare in this period of Italian music in that it calls for recorder. The text is taken from Psalms 150 and 99. The joyful closing work of this concert gave instrumentalists interludes between phrases of verbal text.

The crypt of the Crusader Church is an intimate concert venue and has a lively acoustic. “Il Pastor Fido” is an ensemble of five superb performers; they have been working together for a year. Their concert was well programmed, taking the audience from Italy, England, France and back to Italy and from court to pastoral situations. The audience enjoyed the results of fine collaboration between players and stylistically pleasing performance.

“Il Pastor Fido”
Michal Okon-soprano
Uri Dror-recorders
Anna Ioffe-Baroque violin
Marina Minkin-harpsichord
Alexander Fine-Baroque bassoon
The Crypt, Crusader Church,
Abu Gosh, Israel
October 20, 2008


Monday, October 27, 2008

Jerusalem Early Music Workshop 2008

The Jerusalem Early Music Workshop, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Music Centre and run by Hed Sella, its director, was taking place for the 22nd time over the Succoth holiday of 2008. At Beit Shmuel, some twenty notable European, Canadian and Israeli musicians tutored 120 young Israeli players in an intensive course focusing on performance practice of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. Many of the students play conventional, modern instruments and this workshop was a chance for them to be exposed to period instruments and to the subtlety and sophistication of early repertoire. The workshop is known for its informal, warm and encouraging atmosphere. Students attend classes and concerts and play in ensembles. Clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola feels the importance of such a workshop is not just to produce professional performers but to encourage playing for pleasure and a future concert-loving audience. Tutors I talked to praised the excellent organization of the course.

I spent the morning of Sunday October 19 wandering around Beit Shmuel and Hebrew Union College visiting just a few of the many ensemble groups. The students, impressive in their competence, disciplined and serious, were preparing works to be performed at the students’ concert. Canadian soprano Ann Monoyios was working on a cantata by A.Scarlatti with a female singer, two recorder players, harpsichord and ‘cellist. Monoyios was discussing ornaments, the importance of eye contact and the role of the ‘cello in bringing out the many hemiolas of the piece.

In another room, Israeli harpsichord player, Yizhar Karshon, himself at the harpsichord, was guiding three flautists and a bassoonist through a Boismortier quartet. Karshon was talking about expression, tonguing, textures and contrasts, the role of the flutes as regarding that of the harpsichord-bassoon continuo. He went on to talk about the authentic “Baroque sound”. The transition from a slow movement to a fast one needed more work; Karshon showed the young players the importance of the break between movements, followed by fresh energy and a mood change in store to surprise the audience in the movement to come.

Baritone Assif Am-David was working on a Telemann cantata with a soprano, violinist, flautist, harpsichordist and ‘cellist. He was giving tips regarding Baroque performance practice and encouraging the singer to ornament her line.

German ‘cellist Rainer Zipperling’s young musicians, playing flute, oboe, bassoon, ‘cello, violin and harpsichord, were working on Vivaldi’s Concerto in g minor. The ensemble sound was rich and pleasing. Addressing each player by name, Zipperling discussed dynamics, the varying of each phrase and advised the players not to “warn” the audience of an approaching subito forte! He advised the ‘cellist not to drag and that he should “sing” more. There was work done with the violinist on a tricky rhythmic passage. “The forte makes you throw the bow, distracting yourself from the actual rhythm.”

British baritone, Peter Harvey, no newcomer to the workshop, told me he was enjoying the high standard of singing but felt that more male singers should attend the course. His ensemble, - consisting of violin, Baroque flute, ‘cello and harpsichord and two soprano singers, was working on Louis-Nicolas Clerambault’s cantata “Leandre et Hero”. Alternating in the solo role, the two singers gave expression to the drama and emotion of the work, ‘cellist and harpsichordist kept constant eye contact; violinist and flautist presented some well-coordinated, poignant moments.

British violinist, Margaret Faultless, was enjoying the serious attitude shown by the students and appreciated having the chance to spend time talking “shop” with other tutors between lessons. Her ensemble, made up of recorder, two violins, ‘cello and harpsichord, was playing Mancini’s Concerto in g minor. Faultless, addressing her students by name, spoke about live performance of Baroque music –suggesting it should include “loud whispering” and “quiet shouting”. She discussed various approaches to continuo playing around 1700. The session ended with Faultless taking the ensemble through the routine of how to bow at the end of a performance. Faultless will be conducting and soloing with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra November 15 and 16, 2008.

Shut your eyes and, in all the classes I audited, you might forget you were hearing such young players, many of them teenagers. However, in the leafy, tranquil Beit Shmuel courtyard, a ping-pong table offered participants relaxation from concert preparation. In Matthew Halls’ room, a blond, still smooth-faced, jeans-clad, youth was holding up the rehearsal, looking for his bassoon score. Once it was found, Halls told him never to leave his music around again….a gentle reminder that the players here, highly gifted as they may be, are young. This larger ensemble of 14 players included two oboes and two horns for an invigorating performance of Handel’s “Water Music” Suite. Halls, in his relaxed, humorous manner, talked about musicianship. “Once we have a clear pulse, we can be free”, he said. “Watch me for rubato. Let’s go the extra meter to achieve superb artistry. Do get your heads out of the score and look at me.” “By standing, you can be flexible and freer. How about playing this as the most joyful piece you have ever played!” Halls suggested the horns turn the bell of their instruments towards the audience, the idea being to “thrill them”. One player asked about dynamics. Halls’ answer was “We don’t make plans for dynamics. Watch me”. I talked to Halls about the workshop. He felt he had invested a lot of energy in his classes but that the young players were responsive and gave much energy back.

Concert I
The three tutors’ concerts – “Bach and Beyond” - took place in the Hirsch Theatre of Merkaz Shimson and were open to the general public. In the first, Matthew Halls, a well-known conductor and harpsichord player, performed J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 on the beautiful Michael Johnson harpsichord which belongs to the JMC. Halls has performed the Goldberg Variations frequently of late and has recently recorded them;this year he will record all the J.S.Bach keyboard concertos. He sees the Goldberg Variations as a journey (or a map) which becomes clearer as the player proceeds. His playing is beautifully measured and accurate, his journey is one of energy and contrasts, of entertaining dances, of virtuosity, textural complexities and also humor. Halls is articulate and takes time to spell out the melodic, harmonic and expressive content of each variation. The concert ended with a poignant Sarabande, a subject which has a set of variations, probably an early J.S.Bach piece.

Matthew Halls (UK)-harpsichord
J.S.Bach – The Goldberg Variations
The Hirsch Theatre, Mercaz Shimshon
Beit Shmuel, Jerusalem
October 15, 2008.

Concert II
In the second concert, we heard works from the Baroque to the Romantic period. The evening began with J.S.Bach’s Suite in d minor for ‘cello solo, BWV 1008, performed by gamba-player and ‘cellist, Rainer Zipperling. A professor at the Frankfurt- and Cologne Conservatories, Zipperling’s recent recording of the six Bach Suites for Violoncello Solo has received glowing critiques. In the opening Prelude of the d minor suite, Zipperling breathes temperament into the melody, using vibrato to embellish it. In the Allemande, his caressing tone poignantly guides the listener through each different key. Following the hugely energetic Courante, the broad Sarabande is ornamented and conversational, with the artist taking his time to convey the personal character of the piece. The Minuets are technically complex; however, Zipperling places emphasis on the entertaining aspect of these court dances. In the Gigue, the short, eighth-note upbeat and following downbeat were a charming touch and contrasted well with the many fast, sixteenth-note passages. It was a rich and thought-provoking performance.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s second son, spent thirty years in the service of Frederick the Great, a flautist himself. His Sonata in C major, Wq 73, seems to have been written originally for violin and keyboard. We heard it performed on Baroque flute and fortepiano by Kate Clark and Zvi Meniker. Meniker was playing a Walter model fortepiano, built by Wolf (USA) and owned by Bar Ilan University’s Music Department. From the opening Allegro di molto, the artists delighted the audience with brightness and clean playing. The Andante was delicate and expressive, with charming ornamentation and a small flute cadenza. Following this, the elegant and demanding Allegretto movement was a vehicle for interesting stresses and much energy. Performer, researcher and lecturer Kate Clark was born in Sydney Australia and now lives in Amsterdam. She is a leading specialist on the Renaissance flute. Zvi Meniker was born in Moscow and raised in Israel. Today he teaches at the Hanover Conservatory and is visiting professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Trio opus 11 in B flat major for clarinet, ‘cello and fortepiano was composed in 1797. Beethoven dedicated it to Countess Wilhemine von Thun and chose to include the clarinet because of the novelty and popularity of woodwind instruments at the time. Clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola, who emceed the evening with much humor, talked about opera buffa, referring to this trio, with its special effects, as an “opera without singers”. For this work, Coppola was playing a copy of a 1790’s Heinrich Grenser clarinet. The work was a myriad of beautifully shaped phrases, crisp, accurate motifs and lush textures. Coppola’s tone and expression are gorgeous. “Pria ch’io l’impegno” (a humorous song claiming that before starting anything important, one must first eat) was a currently popular tune from Joseph Weigl’s opera “L’Amor Marinaro” (The Corsair). Using the song in the third movement of the trio – Thema con variazione - , Beethoven dismembers Weigl’s ditty and reconstructs it in nine different ways, ending with a dancing 6/8 Allegretto coda.

Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) Trio in D major for flute, ‘cello and fortepiano was one of three piano trios composed in 1789 or 1790 at the behest of London publisher John Bland, with the flute replacing the violin due to the request of some of Bland’s clients. From the opening Allegro, Clark, Zipperling and Meniker presented the audience with the joy of articulate, Haydnesque lines and gestures. The second movement - Andante piutosto allegretto – was touching, delicate and singing and the final Vivace assai, pleasing in its lightness and intense moments. There was clearly fine collaboration between the artists.

Composed in the last year of his life, “The Shepherd on the Rock” is very different to other Lieder composed by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) in that it falls into three sections, has texts by two different poets and is scored for clarinet in addition to soprano voice and piano. In fact, it is more like an operatic aria than a Lied. It calls for soprano voice although the words are those of a shepherd yearning through a long winter for his beloved.
……. “The further my voice travels,
The clearer it returns to me from below.
So far from me does my love dwell
That I yearn for her more ardently over there”.. (Translation: Lionel Salter.)
Canadian soprano, Ann Monoyios, Coppola and Meniker shape each phrase and nuance magically. Monoyios begins the vocal line with delicacy; her piano tone is controlled and bewitching as she takes us through the shepherd’s longing and sadness. Meniker and Coppola are with her all the way. Monoyios paints the last section of transcendent hope with the joy and color of spring.
“Spring is coming,
Spring, my joy;
Now I will make ready to go journeying.”
Monoyios, a Baroque specialist, performs, gives master classes and records widely, and is a member of faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

The evening ended with Monoyios singing a gentle, caressing cradle song by Louis Spohr.

Ann Monoyios (Canada) –soprano
Kate Clark (Holland) –flute
Lorenzo Coppola (Italy) – clarinet
Rainer Zipperling (Germany) – ‘cello
Zvi Meniker (Israel-Germany) – fortepiano
The Hirsch Theatre, Mercaz Shimshon,
Beit Shmuel, Jerusalem
October 16, 2008

Concert III
Concert III was an evening of Baroque music, opening with J.F.Fasch’s (1688-1758) Sonata in F major for oboe, violin, horn & basso continuo. In this ensemble we heard Dutch oboist Peter Frankenberg, British violinist Margaret Faultless and British horn player Andrew Clark. Clark performs on a variety of different horns, according to the historical context of repertoire being performed. In this concert, he played a large natural horn (no valves), making no use of hand-stopping, for the Fasch and Telemann works. Fasch, admired by J.S.Bach, marks the transition from the Baroque-, through the Roccoco-, to the early Classical style. The players, delighting the audience with the mix of their different timbres, presented the various characteristics of the work – the majestic, jovial, the flowing and lyrical – with a fine ensemble sound as well as plenty of personal expression.

Practical knowledge of various instruments is one of the most important keys to understanding G.Ph.Telemann’s (1681-1767) works. His aim is to give “each instrument that which suits it” while “exploiting the potential of each to the utmost”. In his Concerto a 3 in F major for horn, recorder & basso continuo, we heard Clark on horn and Han Tol (Holland) on recorder. Johannes Tol has performed, recorded and taught in Europe, America and the Far East and, from 1999 to 2007, was a member of the outstanding Flanders Quartet. His performance in this concert was expressive and brilliant. In the F major concerto, following the Allegro molto movement, the Loure, in keeping with Telemann’s love of the French style, was played with the elegance of lovely ornaments on recorder, harpsichord (using the lute register) and ‘cello. The Tempo di menuet movement, heavy in its beats, reflects Telemann’s taste for Polish, Moravian and Hanakian folk music, acquired on his travels between 1705 and 1708.

The recorder is featured in only a handful of Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) concertos, but where it does appear, the result is a concerto of virtuosic technique and musical variety. In his Concerto in g minor, RV 105, written in the typical Vivaldian form of three movements – fast, slow, fast –, we hear Tol on recorder, Peter Frankenberg (Holland) –oboe, Margaret Faultless-violin and Marc Vallon (bassoon) as well as basso continuo. The first movement is lively, giving all players melodic expression. The second movement – Largo –, given much expression by Tol, is, indeed, an aria for recorder, accompanied by bassoon and harpsichord. In the third movement, all instruments play once more; the bassoon is now given renewed, demanding solo duties. This rhythmic, colorful Allegro molto movement was inspiring in its energy. Marc Vallon (France), an orchestral- and chamber music player, has taught modern and Baroque bassoon at the Paris and Lyons Conservatory, gives master classes and is an arranger and composer. Musicologist and Baroque oboist Peter Frankenberg tours and records with several European ensembles, tutoring at a number of summer courses.

In Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in a minor for recorder, bassoon and basso continuo, we had the pleasure of hearing Israeli recorder player Lara Morris. A member of several European consorts, Morris currently teaches recorder at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. From the opening Largo, one is lured into the fascinating combination of recorder and bassoon, certainly strange bedfellows, but how articulate and intense they are! Morris’ playing is expressive and brilliant; Vallon, too, no less, as we heard in the Allegro, which they presented with verve. In the Largo cantabile, the bassoon joins accompanying instruments, giving the recorder the stage. In the Allegro molto, with the two conversing once more, the audience enjoyed the energy and joy resulting from fine, communicative playing.

An interesting and moving item on the program was a group of pieces from two J.S.Bach cantatas, forming what baritone Peter Harvey called a “fake cantata”. “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” (Walk in the Way of Faith) BWV 152, composed in Weimar in1714, calls for a small ensemble of players, thus creating an intimate chamber piece. “Wer sich erhoehet, der soll erniedriget warden” (Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he who gains humility shall be exalted over.), BWV 47, was composed in Leipzig in 1726. The lush and interesting opening sinfonia, scored for recorder (Tol), oboe, violin, ‘cello and organ, issues in the “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” aria, with its opening motif depicting the stepping movement of “Tritt”, with its superb oboe obbligato. Peter Harvey’s voice boasts a rich mix of light and dark and his study of and interest in the verbal text are clear. In the aria “Der Heiland is gesetzt in Israel” (The Savior is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel), we enjoy the intimacy and delicacy of voice, organ and ‘cello. In “Jesu, beuge doch mein Herze” (Jesus, humble my heart), violin and oboe interact and intertwine beguilingly. Harvey sings the final chorale as a solo:
“Perishable honor I will gladly reject,
If only You reserve the eternal for me,
That You have won through Your harsh, bitter death.
This I pray to you, my Lord and God”.

Peter Harvey (UK)-baritone
Kate Clark (Holland)-flute
Peter Frankenberg (Holland)-oboe
Marc Vallon (France)-bassoon
Rainer Zipperling (Germany)-‘cello
Margaret Faultless (UK)-violin
Han Toll (Holland)-recorder
Lara Morris (Israel)-recorder
Andrew Clark (UK)-horn
Matthew Halls (UK)-harpsichord
The Hirsch Theatre, Mercaz Shimshon,
Beit Shmuel, Jerusalem
October 18, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Barrocade Ensemble,Vanhal and Vivaldi

The Barrocade Ensemble, the Israeli Baroque Collective, performed a short concert in Jerusalem prior to its tour abroad to take part in the “VBE Baroque Evenings Festival” in Varazdin, a town of cultural and historical interest on the Drava River in northwestern Croatia. Established in 1971, this international festival offers a variety of Baroque concerts of all kinds in churches and picturesque venues around the town. This will be Barrocade’s first guest appearance at the festival.

The concert opened with Jan Krtitel Vanhal’s (1739-1813) “Salve Regina” for soprano and strings. Details of Vanhal’s life are sketchy but it is thought he was born of a Czech peasant family and was taken under the wing of a certain Countess Schaffgotsch, who sent him to study in Vienna. He eventually became a prolific composer, writing two or three operas, 100 quartets, at least 73 symphonies and 95 sacred works. The original manuscript of the “Salve Regina” we heard is today in Varazdin, where it was written at a time Vanhal was court composer there. The performance we heard, with soprano Ye’ela Avital singing the solo, was the Israeli premiere of the work. The opening Cantabile is paced in slow, heavy beats. Avital’s voice glides with ease, she is warm and communicative. The Allegro movement, though joyful, was taken at a controlled pace. The sudden pauses, typical of Vanhal’s style typical of the “Sturm und Drang” movement, add dramatic effect.

The next work on the program was Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Mandolin Concerto in D major, with Jacob Reuven playing the solo. We know from a letter of Vivaldi’s that his protector, the Marquis Guido Bentivoglio, played the mandolin but there is no evidence that the mandolin concerti were written to be performed by him. Scored for strings, theorbo and harpsichord, the work began with energy and joy. Reuven was articulate, with brilliant solo passages, much “conversation” with the orchestra as well as moments where he joined instruments reinforcing harmonies. The Largo movement, with thinner orchestration, was intimate and delicate and taken at a relaxed enough pace for all nuances and ornamentation to be heard. The Allegro was spirited, with Reuven adding brilliance and excitement. The audience loved it. Israeli mandolin artist Jacob Reuven (b.1976) has performed with many local orchestras and ensembles. In addition to being a classical artist, he is a member of “Mactub”, an international ensemble performing classical, Arabic and Middle Eastern music.

Over the course of three centuries, more than 150 composers have used the La Folia theme in their works. Vivaldi used the popular melody and chord progression in 1705 for his La Folia Variations Opus 1, no.12, scoring it for two violins and basso continuo. We heard the Barrocade’s arrangement of it for strings, harpsichord, theorbo, mandolin and flutes. The ensemble’s version of it is a work in progress, developing and changing in time as the result of much discussion of ideas among the players. After a well-defined exposition of the short theme, we were treated to twenty variations of it, each differently orchestrated, each different in color… from flutes playing in parallel rhythms in the first, to a variation of only bowed and plucked instruments, to a mellow, darker texture, to abrasively bowed, intense textures, to a variation of virtuosity on the part of the mandolin, to serene, lyrical variations, to vehement, stormy ones, to ones of sudden dynamic changes, to running triplets. Violinist Shlomit Sivan was expressive and touching in her solos in two of the variations. This was a fine example of Barrocade’s rich palette of instrumental color.

The concert ended with Vivaldi’s motet “Laudate Pueri Dominum” in G, RV601, for soprano and orchestra, a joyous yet serene setting of Psalm 112. Israeli Ye’ela Avital is known to many as a performer of Baroque music, but her repertoire actually includes works from early- to contemporary music; she teaches and performs widely in Israel and Europe. This Vivaldi motet is an excellent vehicle for the Barrocade group; Avital delights the audience with the sheer melodic beauty of the piece, with her flowing melismas and her ornamenting, together with the fact that there is much to interest the players, too. The work is a series of short, contrasted movements. The Gloria was especially lovely, opening with Kimberly Reine’s moving cantabile flute solo. Flute and voice blended well against delicate orchestration. The florid Amen was rich and well phrased, bringing a very pleasing concert to an end. Barrocade’s concerts offer concert-goers the joys of live music, inspiring and involving the audience.

The Barrocade Ensemble’s concert series begins in November, details of which can be viewed on .

Slomit Sivan, Yasuko Hirata-violins
Katia Polin-viola, recorders
Boaz Berney, Kimberly Reine-flutes
Alexandra Polin-‘cello
Amit Tiefenbrunn-violone
Rinat Avissar-double bass
Eitan Hoffer-theorbo
Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord
St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem
September 18, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Golden Age of Judeo-Spanish Music,Beit Avi Chai,Jerusalem

The main auditorium at Beit Avi Chai was crowded to overflowing on the evening of August 21. The occasion was “Sounds from the Golden Age” – an evening of Ladino songs from the Golden Age of Sephardic music, interspersed with instrumental pieces from the Middle Ages. The concert was under the musical direction of recorder player and flautist Michael Melzer, who saw this as an opportunity to breathe new life into existing material by way of his own musical arrangements. People attending the concert represented different groups of Jerusalem communities. An instrumental ensemble of recorders, oud, percussion, double bass and a specially constructed viol combination instrument - was seated on the stage. The players were joined by singers Ofer Khalaf and Esti Keinan.

With a startling, buzzy barrage of driving rhythms, the concert opened with Francisco de la Torre’s (beginning 16th century) “Danza”, after which a jaunty early Saltarello was played mostly in parallel octaves, providing solos for several of the players. We heard an Estampie, the text of which was found in France, one of the few written for two voices. “Tre Fontane” (Three Wellsprings), a dance from the Middle Ages, representing the three monotheistic religions which had joined forces till the Jews’ banishment from Spain, was energetic, with recorders and oud placed against an ostinato of bowed instruments and drum – a virtuosic piece. Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro (Benjamin Guglielmo) was a Jewish dancing master in the 15th century in Pesaro, Italy. He served many European courts and wrote a treatise on dancing – “De pratica seu arte tripudii vulgare opusculum (On the Practice or Art of Dancing) (1463) – which included both tunes and choreography. In his reading of Guglielmo’s “La Spagna”, a basse dance (i.e. all steps close to the floor with no leaps) Melzer creates a tranquil, beautifully crafted solo to the accompaniment of double bass and percussion. The last dance played was “Cho min ciamento di gioia” (The Start of a Game), a homophonic, set of long, intricate phrases, each ending simultaneously.

Singer Ofer Khalaf did not grow up hearing songs in Ladino at home, but has made a serious study of the repertoire under the guidance of Rubic Simantov. Khalaf presented a number of Ladino romances, the first of which was “La rosa enflorece”, (The Rose Blooms in May) a 16th century love song of the Judeo-Spanish oral tradition, as passed on from generation to generation by Jewish women. In a superb and heart-rending performance of this much-loved song, Melzer’s arrangement was introduced by viol and double bass – double bass player Chagai Bilitsky had much to say melodically - it was expressive and mournful, with Ralli Margalit skillfully “singing” and ornamenting the melody on her viol-combination instrument in oriental, fragrant idiom. Khalaf began the song itself with humming, then adding the words, with his own expressive interpretation. The viol brought the piece to a poignant close.
‘The rose blooms in May
But my soul wilts from love sickness;
Nightingales sing with sighs of love.
In your hands are my soul and my fate.
Come quicker, dove, hurry and save me.’

The Romance “Porque IIorax, blanca nina” (Why Should You Cry?) exists in a number of versions. The whispering effects at the outset of the piece belie undertones of a complex domestic plot, whereby a man leaves his young wife, advising her to find a new husband after eight years of his absence. Melzer gives his instrumentalists individual melodic roles and expression, the combination of which resulted in a mesmerizing collage; Khalaf’s singing is full of feeling, from the gut. The next song he performed was probably in existence before the Jews were banished from Spain. Another tricky family situation unfolds here: a young man, released from prison, arrives at his mother’s home with a girl who is, as fate would have it, his mother’s daughter. In this strophic song, Oren Fried’s percussion sets the scene together with Chagai Bilitsky on double bass. We become aware of a military march in the distance. Khalaf sings the emotional text in a strident, uncompromising, heart-rending manner.

Melzer has clothed the touching, cantabile Ladino lullaby “Durme, durme” in Renaissance dress, beginning with an instrumental version of it, with delicate percussion bell effects creating an air of magic. Recorder solos were lyrical and pleasing. Khalaf’s sung verses were sandwiched between lilting instrumental sections. The instrumentalists joined the singing, too
‘Sleep, sleep, Mother’s little one,
Free from worry and grief.
Listen, my joy, to your mother’s words,
To the words of “Shema Yisrael”.
Sleep, sleep, Mother’s little one,
With the beauty of “Shema Yisrael”’.

Esti Keinan-Ofri is a singer, dancer and instrumentalist who performs ethnic music, in particular, Ladino songs, into which she shows great insight. At this concert, she presented four songs in Ladino, each being a performance in the true sense! Keinan sang two versions of “Tres hermanicas” (Three Sisters), opening with a duet with Margalit. Keinan’s alto voice is rich, boasting a large range; however, her strength lies in her dramatic presence and total involvement in her texts. In her second song, “Maldicha tripa” (A Cursed Belly), oud player Luai Chilifi plays a beguiling, meditative solo. The plot tells of a young daughter who goes to war to save her father from conscription. Keinan, with her large palette of gestures and vocal color, is expressive and spontaneous, taking the listener into the depths of his or her soul. In “La mujer de Terach” (Terach’s wife, mother of Abraham) Keinan accompanying herself with the utmost of delicacy with the help of a small gong, is eventually joined by Fried’s voice and percussions. (They perform together as the “Kol-Toff” [Voice-drum] Duo.)Beginning with a somewhat Sprechgesang (speech in song) technique, Keinan’s reading of the piece takes her into strident sounds of the most vehement expression. Her fourth song, the wedding song “Ay, que Buena” (Oh, How Beautiful), was also performed with Fried – a percussionist whose hallmark is good taste and delicacy. The song is sensitive, sensuous and earthy. Keinan is free and spontaneous in her use of the stage, her face and body. She and Fried communicate well, complementing each other in understated nuances.

The evening ended with Ofer Khalaf singing “Yo menamore d’un aire” (I Fell in Love), one of the most popular and best-known Ladino songs. To this joyful, flowing melody Melzer has added independent melodic lines for recorders. As in some of the texts above, we are once again reminded that the domestic scene is fraught with problems! The audience savored every moment of it.
‘I fell in love with a breeze,
A breeze of a woman so pretty,
Dearer to me than my heart.
I fell in love during the night,
The moon deceived me-
Were it daytime, I would not have found love.
If I fall in love ever again
I will do it in daylight.’

This concert was the outcome of much research, work and artistic creativity on the part of Michael Melzer and his fellow musicians. The combination of Ladino songs and Renaissance dances was interesting and certainly refreshing. Melzer’s instrumentalists are hand-picked, his singers outstanding; performance was polished, at the same time leaving room for freedom and spontaneity. Considering the wealth of material covered in the concert and the audience’s interest and involvement, a detailed printed program would have been helpful. The auditorium at Beit Avi Chai is a pleasing venue for events of this kind.

“Sounds of the Golden Age”
Michael Melzer-artistic direction, musical arrangements, recorders
Yael Melzer-recorders
Ofer Khalaf-tenor
Ralli Margalit-“Hu-Tar” ‘cello
Luai Chilifi-oud
Chagai Bilitsky-double bass
Oren Fried-percussions
Guest artist Esti Keinan-Ofri-alto
Beit Avi Chai, Jerusalem
August 21, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra - Junge Philharmonie

The evening of August 9th was wet and blustery in Cornwall but inclement weather did not prevent local people and summer visitors from attending a concert played by a few members of the Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Penzance. The present church was built in 1833-5, becoming a parish church with its own vicar in 1871.TheCologne New Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Volker Hartung, is the only independent orchestra in Germany and its members come from many countries: the eight performers that evening were from Germany, Poland, Spain and Belgium. Hartung himself was not present.

The evening’s concert began with W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Violin Concerto in G Major, KV 216.Composed in Salzburg in 1775, the work is in three movements. Soloist was Marek Dumicz, the orchestra’s concertmaster, with a string sextet playing the orchestral parts. The opening Allegro movement was fresh-sounding, with much interaction between the players. The cadenza was expressive and personal without being showy. The Adagio movement was given a personal, rich reading. Here, the cadenza was well paced and thought-provoking. The Rondeau:Allegro was joyful but measured, Dumicz’ phrases were finely shaped and melodic subjects nicely contrasted. The work ended with a touch of Mozartean humility.

Also by Mozart, we heard the aria “Nel Sen mi Palpita”, with the young Belgian soprano Astrid Defauw as soloist. The aria is from Act one of “Mitridate, re di Ponto”, an opera written by Mozart in 1770 (the composer was 14 years of age!), when he was touring Italy. In this aria, Aspasia, who is engaged to Mitridate, awaits her fiance’s return, grieving the fact that he is parted from her. Defauw’s performance was exciting and dynamic; her understanding of the role was supported by her vocal ease and musicality. Her diction was not always distinct.

The ensemble performed a selection of pieces from Henry Purcell’s (1658-1695) opera “Dido and Aeneas”. To a libretto by Nahum Tate, it was Purcell’s first opera, composed in 1689. In the Overture, the septet sets the gloomy scene. The aria “I am prest with torment” is sung to a ground (recurring) bass, a musical form frequently used by Purcell. Here, Dido tells her servant Belinda of her doubts about Aeneas’ intentions. Defauw’s performance of it was emotional and enriched by excellent instrumental support. The selection ended with Dido’s heart-rending “When I am laid in earth”. Defauw ornamented the piece tastefully as she let the aria unfold and breathe, her high notes rich and effortless. Her own involvement in the tragedy of the piece was convincing and moving.

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) composed his six string sonatas in Ravenna Italy in the summer of 1804. He was only twelve years of age. They are often performed by larger ensembles; the CNPO players, however, performed his Sonata III in C major for strings in its original scoring, as a quartet. Based on the classical model of the generation preceding Rossini, the work conjures up the immediacy and sparkling cantabile melodic fluency present in Rossini operas! The opening Allegro was both cleanly played and delightfully entertaining, with its humorous moments and joy. The Andante painted a more serious scene, with the final Moderato movement presenting a dazzling set of variations, offering brilliant solos to players, double-bass player included.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) composed the incidental music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opus 61 in 1843. Actually, he had written the Overture 17 years earlier! The CNPO chose to play the Scherzo from it; the ensemble’s lightness and agility, variety of color and textures were a keen reminder to us that the setting for the Shakespeare play was an enchanted wood.

The concert ended with Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) Concerto in C major for Violoncello and Orchestra, Hob. VII:1, with the ‘cello solo played by Dmitri Gornovski. Haydn composed the work around 1761-1765 to be performed by his friend Joseph Weigl, the principal ‘cellist of Prince Nicolaus’ Esterhazy Orchestra. The score calls for strings, two oboes and two horns. There is also a basso continuo line that might have been played by another ‘cellist or a bass string player or, possibly, by Haydn himself at the harpsichord. The Cologne ensemble made do with no wind instruments. The original ‘cello line, however, divides its time between playing solo and joining tutti sections, this dual role making great demands on that player. All the concerto’s movements are in sonata form. The first movement – Moderato – expounds Haydnesque joy. Gornovski’s richness of tone and expression made for interesting listening, his cadenza measured, communicating a sense of well-being. After a dramatic entry of two bars, the Adagio movement is tranquil, articulate and meditative, with Gornovski’s bow caressing and singing. The final movement - Allegro molto – is witty and joyful. The soloist’s energy and virtuosity had his audience involved and bright-eyed.

Johann Pachelbel’s much-loved, mellow Canon in D major was played as an encore, providing another chance to hear beautiful solo work.

The program was varied, with an appealing selection of works. The Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra has high standards of performance, its reading into works profound. Tempi are taken for what they are and never as a vehicle for showmanship. Performing these works with so few players creates playing that is more individual and expressive than often heard in larger ensembles. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative.

Junge Philharmonie Koeln,
Violins: Marek Dumicz (concertmaster, Poland), Sabine Baron (Germany), Mateosz Zuzanski (Poland), Michal Rozek (Spain)
Viola: Alexandra Kiszka (Poland)
Violoncello: Dmitri Gornovski (Germany)
Double bass: Alexander Maar (Germany)
Soprano: Astrid Defauw (Belgium)
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Penzance, Cornwall UK.
August 9, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nicholas Clapton-countertenor and Jonathan Watts-piano

It was 10:30 p.m. and people were streaming into the Great Hall of Dartington Hall on a blustery summer evening to hear a recital of English songs performed by countertenor Nicholas Clapton and pianist Jonathan Watts.

Nicholas Clapton, born in Worcester, has pursued a wide-ranging career in opera, oratorio and recital, he writes and researches, records and teaches. Born in Wales, Jonathan Watts has embraced many styles of keyboard playing, exploring the huge repertoire of piano-, organ- and harpsichord accompaniment.

The evening’s concert began with an arrangement of “The Three Ravens” by John Ireland (1879-1962). Organist and teacher, Ireland has produced much great English art-song, his style influenced more by French and Russian style than by folk-song style in Britain of his time. “The Three Ravens”, a spine-chilling folk ballad printed in the Melismata Song Book, was compiled by Thomas Ravenscroft and published in 1611. It opens with three scavenger birds discussing their next meal – a recently slain knight. Ireland’s arrangement of the song is rich and dark, with Clapton and Watts quickly setting the scene. Ireland’s harmonies contain surprises and Clapton matches them with his strong, kaleidoscope of vocal color.

“Silent Noon” (1903) is one of six sonnets composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) to texts by the English poet, illustrator, painter and translator Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Complex, erotic and sensual, the sequence was known as “The House of Life”. Rossetti described the sonnet form as a “moment’s monument”.
‘Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:--
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.’
Evocative and lush, Clapton’s piani were magical set against the accompaniment Watts wove into the texture in shaped, nuanced phrases.

Organist, pianist, conductor and music critic W. Denis Browne (1888-1915) was a masterful songwriter. He fell in battle at age 27. His output consists of a handful of songs, a small quantity of choral, orchestral and piano music and an incomplete ballet. In his setting of Ben Jonson’s “Epitaph on Salathiel Pavey” (Salathiel Pavay was a child of Elizabeth I’s, chapel; he died very young) his dramatization is subtle, his writing for piano rich and beguiling.

Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) was mainly a composer for the stage, also composing orchestral- and chamber music as well as piano- and vocal music for young musicians. His opus 30/3 setting of William Butler Yeats’ (1865-1939) “The Cloths of Heaven”, composed in 1910, is one of his best-known works performed by (adult) soloists. Clapton, his silken legato speaking the poem’s bitter-sweet text, brings out the humble and tender aspects of this touching piece.
‘I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’

Violist and conductor Frank Bridge (1879-1941) composed orchestral- and chamber music as well as 45 songs. Clapton and Watts performed his ballad “Love Went A-Riding” (1914) written to words of Mary Coleridge (1861-1907), with energy and excitement, the effect of galloping horses urgent and vivid. I loved the piano part, which is every bit as interesting and challenging as the vocal line.

Pianist Nicholas Marshall was born in Plymouth in 1942 and has taught at the Dartington College of Arts. His “Five Winter Songs” is a descriptive and evocative group of miniatures, beginning with Shakespeare’s “Winter” – a moody, direct, almost theatrical piece. The composer draws a vignette of stealthy feline gestures in his setting of W.B.Yeats’ “The Cat and the Moon” and an uncompromising, icy, bleak picture in the setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “A Song”. Following Marshall’s intense setting of Thomas Hardy’s “A Sheep Fair”, John Drinkwater’s “January Dusk” paints a gloomy picture of winter’s grey bareness, however, reminding us that spring’s “buds”, “primrose airs” and “coloured retinue” offer hope.

We were privileged to hear Nicholas Clapton in the first performance of Robin Walker’s “The Names of the Hare” composed for unaccompanied counter-tenor, to an anonymous medieval text translated in 1981 by the Irish poet, writer and Nobel Prize laureate, Seamus Heaney. Walker, born in York in 1953, has taught and traveled widely and now spends his time mainly composing. “The Names of the Hare” is feisty, rhythmical and wordy, plying the listener with ideas and associations at a swift rate, the text presenting a startling description of the animal that symbolizes the untamable and the uncontainable as well as wild sexuality. Clapton’s performance of this unconventional work was brilliant.

Born in Sussex, Roger Quilter’s (1877-1953) reputation rests mainly on his oeuvre of light orchestral music and more than 100 songs. The concert concluded with Quilter’s “Five Shakespeare Songs” opus 23 for high voice and piano. The song cycle opens with the somewhat modal and flowing “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” in a lovely cantabile, pensive mood, this being is followed by “Under the greenwood tree”, a canvas rich in movement and early 20th century English harmonies. “It was a lover and his lass” was given a lyrical, delightful performance, full of joy and sunlight, with delicate hints of bird calls in the piano part, after which it was contrasted by the more thoughtful miniature - “Take, o take those lips away”, its long, flowing phrases sung sensitively. The whimsical last song “Hey, ho, the wind and the rain” from Twelfth Night was lively and amusing, bringing this interesting, varied and inspiring recital to an end. It was now time to face the wind and the rain outside.

The Great Hall,
Dartington Hall,Devon,UK
July 31,2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Sweet,stay a while" Dartington Hall,Devon UK

“Sweet, Stay a While” was the title of a concert performed in the Great Hall of Dartington Hall, featuring soprano Evelyn Tubb, Michael Fields-lute and theorbo, David Wright-harpsichord and organ and David Hatcher-viol. The ensemble calls itself “Sprezzatura”, (a term first used in Castiglione’s “Book of the Courtier”, published 1528, referring to the ability of a courtier to perform difficult actions nonchalantly, concealing any effort invested in them), promising a concert with a strong theatrical element. The program included music from the Renaissance and Baroque – mostly English, with some Italian music.

The concert included a number of pieces by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Tubb performed the whimsical “Ye gentle spirits of the air” with playful ease. “The Plaint”, for voice, viol and lute, is a lyrical, moving piece built on an ostinato bass; Tubb outlined its various moods and mood changes with great artistry. In “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation”, a sense of despair made for an emotional, soul-searching performance. London-born David Wright, whose interests also lie in instrument building and restoration, gave an energetic and interestingly ornamented performance of Purcell’s Chaconne (Curtain tune from “Timon of Athens”). One of the highlights of the program was “Morpheus, thou gentle god” a work by Henry Purcell’s younger brother, Daniel Purcell (1664-1717). In her reading of this Baroque “mad song”, Tubb creates a gripping drama of desire and jealousy, coloring the work with many rapid ornaments and rhythm- and tempo changes. She uses the stage well and communicates with her audience in crystal clear diction, with her eyes, with her body. Evelyn Tubb, known to many of us from the Consort of Musicke, works closely with Michael Fields and today is vocal professor at the Schola Cantorum in Basel., Switzerland.

Michael Fields was born in Hawaii and has taken an interesting musical journey - from folk, rock and jazz, to coaching madrigal ensembles and directing medieval dramas. In this evening’s concert he played a complex and delicate lute Fantasia by John Dowland (1563-1626). This was followed by Dowland’s “In darkness let me dwell” for voice and lute, with Tubb weaving in the tragic text with rich melodic interest, her “piano” phrases rich and haunting.
‘In darkness let me dwell; the ground shall sorrow be,
The roof despair, to bar all cheerful light from me;
The walls of marble black, that moist’ned still shall weep;
My music, hellish jarring sounds, to banish friendly sleep.’

Henry Lawes (1595-1662) was a prolific song writer, composing more than 430 songs. His “Sweet, stay a while” for lute, viol and voice was declamatory and pensive. In Lawes’ “Slide soft you silver floods”, Tubb bewitches her listeners, inviting them to savor each word:
‘Slide soft you silver floods
And ev’ry Spring
Within these shady woods;
Let no bird sing,
But from this grove a turtle dove
Be seen to couple with his love:
But silence on each dale and mountain dwell,
Whilst that I weeping bid my love farewell.’

Also on the subject of Nature, the Vauxhall Gardens, opened in 1661, provided Georgian and Victorian Londoners with a summer-time retreat – a place to hear music, admire paintings, promenade, drink and flirt in a happy confusion of classes and media. We know that William Boyce’s (1711-1779) music was performed there. Wright (on harpsichord) and Tubb performed his “Spring Gardens”, with Hatcher joining them on viol in “Tell me ye brooks”, the latter rich in allusions to Nature’s beauty, including bird calls, but weighty in a young woman’s yearning for her lover. These songs were followed by John Weldon’s (1676-1736) lively, charming and melismatic “The wakeful nightingale”; the nightingale sings and takes no rest from the pains of love.

David Hatcher, back in Britain after ten years in Japan where he took a leading part in the country’s flourishing Early Music scene, gave a poignant, contrasted and finely crafted performance of “Whoope (Hope) doe me no harme” & Lachrimae (anonymous) from the Manchester Lyra Viol Book. Hatcher and Wright played two movements of Archangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Sonata in D major (originally scored for violin) opus 5, no.11, providing mellow, meditative respite from the drama and tortures of love.

It was an evening of superb performance, interest and variety, of humor, despair and tranquility. The audience sat at the edge of their seats.

“Sweet Stay a While”
Evelyn Tubb-soprano
Michael Fields-lute, theorbo
David Wright-harpsichord, organ
David Hatcher-viola da gamba
The Great Hall
Dartington Hall, Devon, UK
July 29, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Henschel Quartet at Dartington Hall,Devon UK

The Henschel siblings –violinists Christoph Henschel and Markus Henschel and violist Monika Henschel-Schwind – have been playing music together from a young age. In 1994, they were joined by ‘cellist Mathias Beyer-Karlshoj to form what has become the illustrious Henschel Quartet, an ensemble performing widely and the recipient of many prizes. Quartet members were tutors and performers at the 2008 Dartington Hall International Summer School.

The quartet’s concert in the Great Hall on the Dartington Hall campus in Devon UK, opened with Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) Quartet no. 7 in f sharp minor, opus 108. Shostakovich composed the work, his shortest quartet, in 1960, dedicating it to the memory of his first wife Nina, who had died in 1954. Moving swiftly from the Allegretto to a Lento movement and on to the final Allegro-Allegretto, the Henschel Quartet outlined the melancholy character of this work, at the same time addressing other traits of the composer present in the work: the whimsical opening figure of the first movement, the almost visual bare, Russian landscape of the somber Lento and the somewhat devilish opening of the intense, sometimes cynical, contrapuntal third movement, a movement that includes thematic material from the previous two movements. The quartet ends on a major chord, a gesture of reflection rather than optimism. The players presented the drama of the piece with total involvement.

The next work on the program was Erwin Schulhoff’s (1894-1942) Quartet no.1. Born in Prague of German-Jewish parents, Schulhoff became a virtuoso pianist. His own composition absorbed both German and Czech idiom as well as that of Debussy, but was influenced by the jazz he had heard when in Weimar and Paris. Schulhoff perished in the Wuelzberg concentration camp. His Quartet no.1 was composed after his return to Prague in 1924. The opening Presto con fuoco is rich in texture, intense and energetic, certainly eastern European in character. The second movement – Allegretto con moto e con malinconia grotesca – sets bitter-sweet melodies against a pizzicato background. The Allegro giocoso alla Slavacca presents a fiery set of folk-type dances, one interrupting the other with a sense of urgency. Strangely enough, Schulhoff ends his quartet with a slow, somber movement. Here he creates a distant, hazy texture which develops into dark heaviness. The movement has a bleak message, with the ‘cello adopting a persistent “clock-ticking” motif. A work of virtuosity, color and originality, it was given a profound and moving reading by the players.

The concert ended with Franz Schubert’s String Quartet no.15 in G major, D887. Composed within ten days, in 1826, at a time when Schubert’s reputation in Vienna was gathering momentum, it was his last completed quartet. It opens with a highly contrasted Allegro molto moderato, with drama and melancholy juxtaposed, and the players brought out the strong dynamic contrasts of the movement. The second movement is intimate, singing and serene, disturbed, however, by two vehement outbursts. As in the first movement, the ‘cello plays a central role, with Beyer-Karlshoj’s sensitive bow weaving in each of the plaintive melodies. The Scherzo was light and whimsical, but not lacking in cantabile melodiousness. Schubert, leaving some surprises to the last movement, introduces abrupt changes from major to minor and plays with dotted rhythms and triplets. J.A.Westrup referred to this last movement as “a mad rondo, violent in rhythm and mad in harmony”. Schubert knew he was dying at the time he was writing the quartet; this work is surely a combination of defiance and resignation. The Henschel Quartet’s performance of it was motivated and sincere.

It was an interesting and balanced program. Playing was rich in color, articulate and expressive. This was string playing and musicianship at its finest.

The Henschel Quartet (Germany)
Christoph Henschel-first violin
Markus Henschel-second violin
Monika Henschel-Schwind-viola
Mathias D. Beyer-Karlshoj-‘cello
The Great Hall
Dartington Hall,Devon UK
July 27, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Music from the Lively Court of Dresden

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s final concert for the 2007-2008 season was “Music from the Lively Court of Dresden”, a program of music by Antonio Lotti and Jan (or Johann) Dismas Zelenka. The concert was conducted by Andrew Parrott, the JBO’s honorary conductor. At the harpsichord was Dr. David Shemer, the orchestra’s musical director. For the last 18 years, the JBO has been performing Baroque music on period instruments according to historical performance practice, putting Israel on the map in Baroque orchestral playing of the highest standard.

In the 18th century, Dresden, the capital of the Saxon Electorate, also referred to as “Florence on the Elbe”, was one of the most vibrant cultural centers of Europe. Saxony enjoyed its “Augustan” Golden Age under the reign of Frederick Augustus I (Augustus the Strong) and his son, Frederick Augustus II. The Dresden royal orchestra, the “Hofkapelle”, was known far and wide, performing church music, opera and works written for events at court. Vivaldi and J.S.Bach, in particular, both had connections with the court and its orchestra.

Antonio Lotti (1776/7-1740) was born in Venice and made his name as a musician at St Mark’s Basilica as an alto singer and organist, and he was a renowned teacher; in 1736 he became maestro di cappella, a post he held till his death. In 1717, the Crown Prince of Saxony was in Venice with specific instructions from his father, the king, to secure the services of singers for the court opera and church in preparation for his wedding in 1719. Lotti was given leave to go to Dresden and he left Venice with his wife, a librettist and a number of singers. In Dresden, he composed three operas. In October 1719, Lotti and his wife– the singer Santa Stella- left Dresden to return to Venice. As a souvenir of his visit, he was able to keep the carriage and horses given him for his return trip to Venice.

Lotti composed 24 operas in all, but only eight have survived. “Alessandro Severo”, premiered in 1716, was one of Lotti’s final operas for the city of Venice before he left for Dresden. Apostolo Zeno, a member of the Arcadian Academy, wrote the libretto; he was one of the first to define the “opera seria” as a return to “classical” drama. The JBO’s concert opened with the Sinfonia to the opera. Scored for strings and harpsichord, in three sections, it was given a crisp rendition. Sandwiched between two lively movements, the slower middle section was furtive and singing, with dissonances producing harmonic tensions.

Lotti’s “Missa Sapientiae” is among his most important religious works. Around 1730, J.D. Zelenka, having given the mass its name, added to its instrumentation. Handel copied out sections, using them in some of his oratorios and Bach owned a copy of it. For this performance, the JBO was joined by the Collegium Singers, a first class ensemble of twenty-five young, professional singers, founded by Avner Itai, its conductor, in 1997. Most of the soloists of the evening are members of the choir. Scored for strings, organ, harpsichord, oboes and bassoon, the work is a remarkable collage of pieces, of solos, groups of soloists, choruses, and so on. Different textures contrasting one another make this work interesting. Soprano Efrat Carmoush was impressive and competent; I also enjoyed hearing baritone Assif Am-David. The “Qui tollis” was especially moving, with a small two-note motif dominating the first half, repeated and imitated by upper and lower strings. In the “suscipe deprecationem nostrum” (Receive our prayer) the words were not only distinct but shaped beautifully into the musical phrase. The final movement, “Cum sancto spirito”, was rich in color and contrapuntal strands, exuberant and convincing.

Born in Ludovice, Bohemia in 1679, Jan Dismas Zelenka moved to Dresden in 1710, playing violone (a very large viol) in the court orchestra and receiving the title of “Court composer of church music” due to the numerous sacred works he had composed for the Dresden Catholic church. He died there in 1745. In 1715, he left for Vienna to study counterpoint under Johann Joseph Fux (whose book “Gradus ad Parnassum”, whereby the rules of counterpoint are set down, is still read by students of counterpoint.) On traveling to Venice in 1716, he met Lotti and may have studied with him; this meeting laid the basis for their friendship that would continue into the period they would be together in Dresden. Zelenka returned to Dresden in 1719 and the sophisticated counterpoint of his works written thereafter show results of his time studying with Fux. Zelenka composed the “Ouverture Hipocondrie” in 1723 for the crowning ceremony of Charles VI of Bohemia. The name given to this work is somewhat of an enigma but people in Zelenka’s circle of the time have mentioned that he suffered from bouts of hypochondria. Scored for strings, oboes, bassoon, and harpsichord, the work opens with a movement in dotted rhythms, the oboes playing in parallel rhythms. The second movement gives opportunities for quite demanding instrumental solos, punctuated by short homophonic octave sections.

In his motet “In Exitu Israel de Aegypto” Zelenka takes his text from Psalms 113 and 114 but adds the doxology. In this rich and varied work, solos weave in and out of choral sections, with soloists also singing in ensembles; words and music are well wed. Moving through fugual movements, elaborate textures and dissonances, the motet ends with a joyful and richly exhilarating Amen.

British musicologist and conductor Andrew Parrott coordinated orchestra, choir and soloists in a performance that was, indeed, pleasing and interesting, inspiring the audience to listen to music of Baroque composers not familiar to everybody. Looking back on the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2007-2008 season, I feel we are privileged to enjoy programs offering a rich variety of Baroque repertoire together with excellent performance. Shemer’s program notes (only in Hebrew) are always well worth reading. As of this season, Benny Hendel has been presenting a few words about works and composers in the concerts, adding interest, background information and humor.

“Music from the Lively Court of Dresden”
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra
David Shemer-musical director
Andrew Parrott-conductor
The Collegium Singers
Avner Itai-director
Benny Hendel-concert presentation
Efrat Carmoush-soprano
Orly Hoominer-soprano
Goni Bar-Sela-alto
Oded Amir-tenor
Assif Am-David-baritone
Peter Simpson-baritone