Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Harpsichord Music by Israeli Composers

“Harpsichord Music by Israeli Composers” (Albany Records, TROY 977)) is a representative and interesting collection of works performed by harpsichordist Marina Minkin. Minkin, born the Ukraine and living in Israel, has chosen eight composers of two generations, all of whom, (except for Yinam Leef who is the only Israeli-born composer represented,) blend musical traditions from their native countries with the many flavors of the Middle East and Israel, in particular. Take, for example, Haim Alexander’s (b. Germany, 1915) miniature - “Improvisation on a Persian Song”. Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) also born in Germany, scored his Sonata a Tre” (1968) for harpsichord, mandolin and guitar; Minkin here is joined by guitarist Hanan Feinstein and mandolin-player Alon Sariel. The three instruments emulate Arabic plucked instruments and maqam motives. Yinam Leef was born in Jerusalem in 1953.His “Elegy” (Canaanite Fantasy no. 3,) composed in 1990, is contemplative and contemporary. Minkin takes us with her into the personal expression of this piece.

Benjamin Bar-Am (b.Germany, 1923) composed his “Petite Suite for Recorder and Harpsichord” in 1967. Put aside for many years, Minkin came across it by chance. In this fine work of four miniature movements, recorder-player Drora Bruck presents a polished and interesting performance.

Uri Brener’s (b. Moscow, 1974) “7-11 and Much Later” presents a play of improvisational ideas and jazz rhythms, with much attention to harpsichord sonority. Minkin’s playing invites you to listen, to be involved. Dina Smorgonsky (b. Belarus, 1947) wrote her “Three Dances for Harpsichord” for Minkin in 2007. In this piece, she mixes styles of past with present. Minkin gives this work an elegant reading. Other composers whose works appear on this disc are Yeheskel Braun and Sergiu Natra.

With her choice of high-quality Israeli harpsichord music, Minkin’s playing leaves no stone unturned. Her technique is crystal clean and boasts ease; her ability to interpret very different styles is a specialty not all harpsichordists possess. Above all, Minkin’s playing delights the senses.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

J.S.Bach-His Sons,His Students

“J.S. Bach: His Sons, His Students” was presented by three soloists of the PHOENIX Ensemble: Genevieve Blanchard (Baroque flute), David Shemer (harpsichord) and Myrna Herzog, PHOENIX’s musical director, (viola da gamba and quinton).

The concert opened with Johann Gottlieb Goldberg’s (1727-1756) Trio-Sonata in C Major. Goldberg was a German virtuoso harpsichordist, organist and composer. He was, at age 14, probably the first performer of J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” written as a soporific to help the insomniac Count Kaiserling fall asleep. Goldberg was a pupil of Bach’s from 1733 to 1746 and was lauded by Bach for his industry, improvisation and reading skills. This trio-sonata, in fact, had previously been attributed to Bach. Herzog, in this work, played a quinton, a small, fretted bowed instrument rested on the player’s lap. Herzog’s instrument is an original 18th century quinton, bearing the most exquisite carved head of a young person (or an angel). The head was built by a monk by the name of La Fille, famous for his carved heads for bowed instruments. The sonata began with a gracious, flowing Adagio movement. The second movement – Alla breve – was fugual. Blanchard’s gorgeous creamy tone was wonderfully set off by the defined quality of the quinton. The Largo was a touching conversation between the two. The Gigue was energetic and exciting but taken at a pace which was measured, giving the listener time to hear details.

The German composer, Karl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), was a bass viol player at the Dresden court. In c.1757, he went to London, where he directed a concert series together with Johann Christian Bach (J.S. Bach’s 11th son). Both men became chamber musicians to Queen Charlotte. The concerts, themselves often included Abel’s own works played by him. Abel was one of the last great proponents of the viol. His Sonata in G major for viola da gamba and continuo, performed by Brazilian-born Herzog (this time, on the bass viol) together with Shemer, was from the “Music Book of the Countess of Pembroke”. The latter was a pupil of Abel’s. It is a very idiomatic and flamboyant solo piece for the viol and Herzog’s performance was brilliant, interesting and inviting to the audience. Apart from being very much a technically demanding solo piece for the viol, in three movements, the work is melodious, genial and energetic. Abel’s Adagio movements were much talked about: the work’s Adagio did not disappoint.

And to Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), who was often referred to as the “London Bach”. His Trio-Sonata no.5 in A major in two movements, gives each instrument a very individual role – the viol playing a firm, secure basso continuo (providing the harmonic structure of Baroque music), the flute playing lovely legato lines, the harpsichord drawing the listener into listening to its rich, intricate and energetic role of this scintillating, attractive work.

German composer Johann Ludwig Krebs (1730-1780) studied the organ with J.S. Bach in Leipzig, for whom he also worked as a copyist. Krebs never became an organist of Bach’s caliber but his counterpoint (linear writing in a number of voices) is considered by many to be comparable to Bach’s. Canadian-born Blanchard (playing a boxwood flute made by Alain Weemails, Brussels) and Shemer performed his Sonata da Camera in e minor, no. 4, composed in Leipzig in 1762. The first movement – a Largo – is lyrical. The Vivace movement was energetic with Blanchard playing fast arpeggios (broken chords). The Affettuoso movement was moving, with some lovely ornamenting. After two lilting Minuets, the artists performed the Polonaise (a styalized form of the stately Polish dance) with some nteresting tempo changes.

Carl Philipp Emanual Bach (1714-1788) was the second of J.S.Bach’s sons and one of the founders of the Classical style. Sometimes called “The Hamburg Bach”, he published an important treatise – “Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments” and put much energy into protecting the legacy of his father. David Shemer performed C.P.E.Bach’s “Variations Upon La Folia” for harpsichord. “La Folia” (The Folly) was a well-known melody and harmonic scheme in Europe of the time, used by composers from the Baroque to today as an ostinato (recurring) basis for variations. C.P.E.Bach’s must surely be among the most interesting! Shemer, born in Riga, teaches in Jerusalem, performs and is the musical director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. His reading of the variations was a musical adventure: each small variation wore a different guise, each was a contrast to the former. They ranged from pensive to capricious, to dramatic, to serious; and there were harmonic surprises galore. It was a clean and brilliant performance but not just – it had much to say and the audience was thrilled.

The last work on the program was J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Trio-Sonata in D for flute, viola da gamba and continuo, BWV 1028. It was originally composed for viol and harpsichord but worked well the textures of three instruments. It opened with a flowing, singing Adagio movement, to be followed by an Allegro in which melodic lines were clean and rich. The Andante was given a singing, intimate reading, with very sensitive and beautifully-shaped gamba playing on the part of Herzog. As an “aperitif” the trio played a J.S.Bach organ chorale variation.

I think we were all basking in the highly pleasurable ensemble sound and fine interpretation this PHOENIX trio offered. St Andrew’s Church is an intimate, tranquil venue in Jerusalem, the right size and atmosphere for Early Music performance.

“J.S.Bach’s Legacy: His Sons, His Students”
Soloists of the PHOENIX Ensemble:
Genevieve Blanchard-Baroque flute
David Shemer-harpsichord
Myrna Herzog-viola da gamba, quinton
St Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church
February 28, 2008

Many Faces to the Cantorate

“Many Faces to the Cantorate” featured three cantors - Elihahu Schleifer, Josee Wolff and Tamar Havilio – in an evening rich in variety. Aya Schleifer accompanied on the piano. The evening was a tribute to Professor E. Schleifer, cantor, teacher and musicologist, who has been director of the Cantorial Studies program at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem and will be retiring from the post at the end of the academic year.

The evening presented traditional and modern cantorial music, Yiddish songs and music of Jewish and Israeli composers, trios duets and solos.

Yerucham “Ha-Katon” Blindman (1798-1891), gifted with an outstanding tenor voice, was among the most famous 19th century European cantors. He was also a fine improviser. Cantor Schleifer’s unaccompanied performance of his “Hashkivenu” was spiritual and gripping. Another unaccompanied work in the program was Israel Alter’s (1901-1979) “Akavyo..” This was performed by Tamar Havilio; it was dramatic and soul-searching. Cantor Havilio, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, made aliya to Israel in in 2003 and is a member of faculty of the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College. Her reading of Moshe Ganchoff’s “Hashkivenu” (arranged by Israel Goldstein) was dramatic and emotional, with its many changes of tonality.

French composer and pianist, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), composed his “Deux Melodies Hebraiques” in 1914. They were commissioned by singer Alvina Alvi and first performed by her, with Ravel at the piano. The first song, “Kaddish”, is an arrangement of the traditional New Year melody and the second, “The Eternal Qustion”, is based on traditional Yiddish verse from Eastern Europe. We were privileged to hear them performed by Cantor Josee Wolff. Born in the Netherlands, Wolff performs widely and is on the faculty of Hebrew Union College in New York. Her performance of the Ravel pieces was powerful and profound, poignant and wistful. Wolff also sang Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) “A Simple Song”: her palette of sounds and emotions, vocal ease and dynamics never fail to involve the audience.

Born in the Ukraine, Jacob Weinberg (1879-1956) belongs to the pioneering school of composers who, together with Jewish performers, folklorists and other Russian intellectuals, attempted to found a new Jewish national art music in the first two decades of the 20th century based on authentic Jewish musical heritage. He lived in Palestine from 1921 to 1925, settling in America after that. “Yah Adir”, sung by Cantor Schleifer, is an optimistic song of the “chalutzim” (pioneers) and its harmonies and atmosphere reflect the musical style developing in Israeli music. The piano accompaniment is interesting and independent of the vocal line. Aya Schleifer’s accompaniments are sensitive, shaped and polished. Her playing added much to the evening’s artistic aspect.. In addition to performing, Mrs. Schleifer is a senior staff member of the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

Also in the category of Israeli music, Cantor Havilio sang Naomi Shemer’s arrangement of the Walt Whitman poem “O Captain, my Captain”. Shemer (1931-2004), known as the “first lady of Israeli song”, wrote the piece in 1995 after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The song expresses grief and a sense of hopelessness that pervaded at the time. Anastasia and Dennis Sobolev accompanied Havilio on piano and guitar in an effective and heart-rending performance.

Songs in Yiddish, with their humor and warmth, were certainly an appealing feature of the program. Born in Bukovina, Leibu Levin (1914-1983) was an artist of the Yiddish word. Known as the last of the Yiddish troubadors, he set texts of the most important Yiddish poets to music. Schleifer gave a touching performance of his touching strophic song about a lullaby “My Sacred Cameo”. Havilio’s theatre background is always apparent in songs of the Yiddish genre: she sang and acted American-born Abraham Ellstein’s “Mazl”, an appealing and sentimental song telling of a seventeen-year-old girl looking for a groom.

This was a meaningful and attractive concert, presenting fine artists and much variety. Monica Fallon’s program notes were a source of information and interest.

“Many Faces to the Cantorate”
The Hebrew Union College Concerts
Cantors Elihahu Schleifer, Josee Wolff and Tamar Havilio
Aya Schleifer-piano
Hebrew Union College, 13 King David St.
February 7, 2008

Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra - All Rameau concert

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s fourth concert of the current season consisted of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), one of the most important French composers and theorists of the Baroque era. Rameau’s works can be divided into four distinct groups: a few cantatas, a few motets for chorus, pieces for harpsichord or harpsichord accompanied by other instruments and, finally, works for the stage to which he dedicated the last 30 years of his professional life. The JBO, conducted by its honorary conductor Andrew Parrott (UK) – performed a representative selection of Rameau’s works. The orchestra’s musical director, Dr David Shemer, was at the harpsichord. Joining them were solo singers, solo instrumentalists from the orchestra and the Adi Young Israeli Choir, which is directed by Yishai Steckler.

The concert opened with the Suite from the heroic Ballet “Zais”. In France, there was much emphasis on dance in theatrical music, as was in the social life of the aristocracy. The Overture included interesting instrumental effects representing the four elements. This was followed by a number of short dance movements. Each was different in character: the Sarabande was touching and delicate with beautifully-shaped phrases played on flutes by Boaz Berney and Kimberley Reine, the Minuets elegant and tranquil, the Air des Bergers (Shepherds’ Air) heavier and folksy.

We then heard the Grand Motet “In Convertendo” to the text of Psalm 126:
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
Then we thought we were dreaming”.
This religious work boasts rich harmonic color, melodic beauty and expressiveness. Israeli soprano Efrat Carmoush sang the opening recitative with much delicacy, in keeping with the fragile orchestral texture. Ye’ela Avital, also not new to the JBO series, gave much attention to phrasing and expression. Her duet with Christian Immler was lyrical. Immler performs widely and teaches at the Leeds College of Music (UK). His performance is always engaging, his bass range rich in the lower register and bright in the higher range. Countertenor Zvi Netanel (b. 1976, Israel) performs as a soloist in opera, recitals and sings in vocal ensembles. The “Adi” Young Israeli Choir, founded in 2006 by Yishai Steckler, includes 35 young, professionally-trained singers and performs a wide repertoire of works from Renaissance music to contemporary, much a cappella (voices alone) material, as well as new Israeli works. Steckler’s work focuses on musical detail and blending and it quickly becomes clear that his choir has made a close study of the verbal text. Choral sections had color and immediacy of sound, were well coordinated and rich in dynamics.

In 1741, Rameau published his “Pieces de Clavecin en Concerts”, his only chamber music collection. All these works present the harpsichord as prominent and make stringent demands on the player’s technical and musical ability. As in much French Baroque music, the movements have extra-musical titles, suggesting names of people or places. Joining Shemer were Noam Schuss (violin) and Kimberly Reine (Baroque flute). For those who love the elegance and nobility of Baroque music, this work, with its lilting lines, delicacy and complex counterpoint, was pure delight.

Benny Hendel - actor, translator, interviewer and cantor – presents interesting information about composers and works at JBO concerts. With few words and much wit, in his eloquent manner familiar to so many of us, Hendel makes each concert more meaningful to the audience. In his explanation of the plot in Rameau’s “Anacreon” (1757), a Ballet in one act, we learn of an argument over the relative merits of wine, symbolized by Bacchus, and those of Love. The maenads, followers of Bacchus, claim the two are incompatible and threaten the poet Anacreon, who holds the contrary view. The quarrel is resolved by L’Amour (Cupid.) “Anacreon” offers much fine instrumental music, choral sections and vocal solos. Berney and Reine played Baroque traverse piccolos, introducing them to the Israeli concert audience for the first time. Both the piccolos and traverse flutes they played were built by Berney. Immler’s performance was outstanding in its drama and emotional depth.

The JBO’s Rameau concert was rich in interest and variety, presenting French Baroque music to delight the most discerning of music-lovers. Kudos to Steckler on the superb performance and fresh, young sound of his “Adi” choir. Andrew Parrott’s conducting inspires and produces exciting results. There was magic in the air.

“Jean-Philippe Rameau – the Height of French Music”
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in cooperation with the Jerusalem Music Centre
David Shemer-harpsichord
Andrew Parrott-conductor
Ye’ela Avital-soprano
Efrat Carmoush-soprano
Zvi Netanel-countertenor
Christian Immler (Germany/UK)-bass
Kimberly Reine-flute
Noam Schuss-violin
“Adi” Young Israeli Choir – Yishay Steckler-conductor
Concert presented by Benny Hendel
The Jerusalem YMCA, King David St.,
February 20, 2008.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Italian Music and its Influence on the French

“Italian Music and its Influence on the French” was a concert for those who enjoy the elegance and lushness of Baroque music. Those performing were Uri Dror-recorder, Alexander Fine-Baroque bassoon, Baroque oboe and Marina Minkin-harpsichord.

The evening opened with A. Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Trio-Sonata in g minor for recorder, oboe and basso continuo, a vivacious work with interesting rhythms and chromatic moments. The different timbres made for interesting listening.

It is not every day that one hears Baroque oboe played in Jerusalem. Italian composer Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) was a violin virtuoso with a penchant for art collecting that led him into financial difficulties. Fine, born in the Ukraine, a graduate of the St Petersburg Conservatory and today assistant principle bassoonist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, plays on a replica of an oboe built by Thomas Stainsby junior (London) The four miniature movements of Geminiani’s Sonata in e minor for oboe and basso continuo are each different and technically demanding, ending with a dance-like Vivace movement. Michel Corrette (1707-1795), composer and author of instrumental method books, served as organist at the Jesuit College in Paris. Fine played two movements from Corrette’s Sonata in G major for bassoon and basso continuo. The audience enjoyed Fine’s rich, large legato tone, well contrasted against the harpsichord texture.

Minkin’s continuo-playing is creative and varied but it was also a treat to hear her playing Jean-Philippe Rameau’s (1683-1764) Suite in a minor for harpsichord. Playing on a historical replica of an Italian-style Ridolfi harpsichord (built by Thomas Wolf, Washington) Minkin presented the three movements with boldness, much beautiful ornamentation and fine texturing. The last movement – la triomphante – was truly “triumphant”, with the harpsichord’s forthright sound giving each gesture presence. Minkin also performed the first movement of J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Concerto for Harpsichord in g minor BWV 975 (after A.Vivaldi.) Bach’s transcriptions of Vivaldi concerti (and those of other masters) were made during his period in the Weimar court from 1708 to 1717. While condensing the ensemble score on one level, Bach expands it on another, producing an artistic adaptation rather than a literal transcription. These concerti have become a part of the genuine keyboard repertoire. Minkin’s reading of the piece was crisp, articulate, measured and fresh. Minkin, born in the Ukraine and in Israel since 1981, has studied piano, harpsichord, organ and historical performance in Jerusalem and Boston.

The evening featured some very fine recorder-playing. Israeli-born Uri Dror has degrees in Early Music performance from the Hague Royal Conservatory, teaches recorder and edits and publishes music. Playing on a replica of a Thomas Stainsby junior alto recorder, Dror presented Francesco Barsanti’s (1690-1772) Sonata no.2 in C major for recorder and basso continuo. Born in Lucca, but residing in London for many years, Barsanti, an oboist himself, is known for his instrumental music. Dror gave us a detailed, well-ornamented reading of the work, lending humor to rhythmic patterns in the last movement. Minkin added interesting embellishments. Dror, Minkin and Fine also performed Nicholas Chedeville’s (1705-1782) Sonata no. 4 in g minor for recorder and basso continuo from “Il Pastor Fido” which he published under Vivaldi’s name. This beautiful sonata boasts great charm and Dror presented a brilliant and interesting and performance of it. The harpsichord-bassoon continuo was especially effective, adding color to and setting off the Dror’s firm tone very nicely.

I found the venue very conducive to Baroque chamber music. It is am intimate space and has a lively acoustic. The program notes were less than adequate but the program itself was fit for the most royal of guests..

Italian Music and its Influence on the French
Uri Dror-recorder
Alexander Fine-Baroque bassoon, Baroque oboe
Marina Minkin-harpsichord
The Cultures Center, Jerusalem
April 1, 2008–04–05


Italian Fire - Vivaldi and the Scarlattis - senior and junior

“Italian Fire: Vivaldi and Scarlatti” was an evening performed by four of the PHOENIX Ensemble soloists. It was an evening of secular music, with much to do with the subject of love, and, alas, to do with the suffering involved, always a part of these texts. Those performing were Macarena Lopez Lavin-soprano, Adi Silberberg-recorders, Dafna Gan-harpsichord and the ensemble’s musical director, Brazilian-born Early Music researcher and string player Dr Myrna Herzog-viola da gamba.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) although a priest, composed 37 secular chamber cantatas probably from 1718 to 1720 when he was in Mantua as chamber Kapellmeister at the court of Landgrave Philips van Hessen-Darmstadt. There his work was to provide operas, cantatas and possibly concert music. The secular cantata appealed to a very select, aristocratic audience of the time. In his cantata “All’ombra di sospetto” RV678 (In the Shadow of Suspicion), Lopez Lavin and Silberberg blended and communicated superbly. Born in Santiago, Chile Lopez Lavin completed music studies in the USA and, today, resides in Israel. She has vocal ease and agility, she is expressive and coquettish; Silberberg reflects these traits in his playing, and his ornamentation adds charm and humor. In “Amor,hai vinto” RV651 (Love, you have conquered) Lopez Lavin’s singing is sonorous and well-phrased. Herzog’s playing adds intensity to the stress and panic expressed in the Largo movement. Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) is often called the father of Neapollitan opera. His popular aria “Rugiadose, odorose” from the opera Pirro e Demetrio (1694) was given a fresh reading by Lopez Lavin, with Silberberg interacting with her on a soprano recorder.

Pretty violets,
You are standing
Half hidden
Among the leaves
And you scold
My desires
That are too ambitious.”

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) - Alessandro’s son – spent much of his life in Portugal and Spain. An organist and eminent harpsichordist, he composed 500 two-part harpsichord sonatas. These small gems contain many original and daring ideas. Each one presents the listener with surprises. Dafna Gan, playing a Klop spinet, performed two very different sonatas. In the first, she painted a serene scene and in the second, brought out the technical, rhythmical and textural complexities in a piece brimming with temperament. Israeli-born Gan studied under David Shemer and is a member of faculty of the annual Jerusalem Early Music Workshop.

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) published Opus 5, his only set of violin sonatas, in 1700. Corelli left only a bass line and the unadorned violin part, with no harmonies, figurations or ornamentation, inviting players to be creative in their performance. These sonatas are considered such fine Baroque fare that they have been transcribed for and performed on other instruments. In this concert, we heard Herzog playing an 18th century French transcription of it on an 18th century bass viol, the result being very mellow. The viol was occasionally drowned out by the harpsichord. Herzog’s reading of it was highly melodic; she brought out the touching simplicity and beauty of the Sarabande, contrasted by the excitement and virtuosity of the final Giga.

There is some doubt as to whether the Sonata in g minor for recorder and basso continuo attributed to Vivaldi was really composed by him. In any case, it is a beautiful work offering much interest to the keyboard player, too. Silberberg and Gan’s performance was lively and interesting. Silberberg, playing a Yoav Ran alto recorder, presents clean melodic lines which are never blurred by his brilliant ornamenting. An eclectic musician, Israeli-born Silberberg began his studied in Rehovot, continuing them in Utrecht.

The final work of the evening, Alessandro Scarlatti’s cantata “Solitudine avenne” brought the audience back to the original theme of the concert – that love is full of pain. This appealing work tells of the lady longing for her lover, but he is off in fresher pastures. Once again, Silberberg plays along with the plot together with Lopez Lavin.

Kudos to Myrna Herzog and her excellent soloists for an evening rich in interest – an evening of outstanding, authentic performance, fine entertainment and humor.

Italian Fire: Vivaldi and Scarlatti
Soloists if the PHOENIX Ensemble
St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem
April 3 2008

Andreas Scholl,Tamar Halperin at JMC

There was excitement in the air as people crowded into the Jerusalem Music Centre for the recital of German countertenor Andreas Scholl (b.1967), certainly no newcomer to the Jerusalem concert scene), and young Israeli harpsichordist and pianist Tamar Halperin. Scholl had been conducting master classes for singers on the days prior to the concert.

The concert began with two Henry Purcell(1659-1695) songs. Halperin set the scene for “Music For a While” with a small, ornately improvised introduction. And such an appropriate beginning to the evening this song was. From the incidental music to “Oedipus”, we know that, in the hands of these two artists, music “shall all your cares beguile”. This was followed by “Sweeter Than Roses”. Composed in 1695 to be included in the tragedy “Pausanius”, it is filled with words that fire one’s imagination: ”evening breeze”, “dear kiss”, “shot like fire”. It is, indeed, a personal soliloquy about separation. In both the songs, Scholl, by means of diction and rubato (flexible rhythms) presents the impact of each expressive word.

Halperin then performed German composer, organist and keyboard virtuoso J.J. Froberger’s (1616-1667) Suite no. XVIII for Harpsichord in g minor. Sometimes credited as being “creator of the Baroque suite”, Froberger typically includes an Allemande, Gigue, Courante and Sarabande in this suite. Halperin crafts each phrase with individual expression, brings out the most hidden of melodic lines, ornaments and orchestrates, sways her rhythms, concluding this interesting performance with a Sarabande of regal majesty. Tamar Halperin is presently residing in Basel, studying harpsichord and continuo-playing at the Schola Cantorum.

Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) wrote more than 50 cantatas when he was in Rome from 1706 to 1709. A member of the “Arcadian Academy” (a society of men of the arts, originally of poets, proposing to return to the fields of truth, to pastoral mythology) Handel saw the cantata as a dramatic form to entertain audiences at a time when opera was prohibited. Scholl and Halperin performed two of these cantatas. Presenting the narrative, touching and humorous naivete of these works, the artists were communicative with each other and with the audience. Scholl gave a brief account of each of the whimsical plots, adding to the audience’s comprehension and enjoyment.

Halperin played the Allemande from J.S.Bach’s(1685-1750) French Suite no. 4 in E flat major. Once again, she takes the audience with her on a personal musical journey of shaped and crafted phrases where timing says it all.

The concert ended with three songs by F.J.Haydn (1732-1809). His songs “Despair”, “Recollection” and “Wandering” were all reflective, dark and delicate. Halperin, now accompanying on the piano, brought out the lyrical and pianistic aspects of these works: no nuance was overlooked. Scholl, once more, highlighted certain words to produce the drama of the moment; his consonants, such as the “k” in “think death” (in “Despair”) were jagged and cutting and his message was clear. In “Wandering”, excitement and disappointment are reflected in a myriad of harmonies.

For their encore, the artists presented a folk-song, the melancholy “There Is a Ship”, sung and accompanied with simplicity, beauty and humility. It was a moving end to the evening.

The Jerusalem Music Centre is surely the most intimate and wonderful hall for recitals. Each note rang out clearly and every word presented itself to the listener. The program was especially well balanced. It was an evening of great artistry and sincerity…an evening not to be missed!

Guest Artists at the JMC
Andreas Scholl-countertenor
Tamar Halperin-harpsichord and piano
The Jerusalem Music Centre, Yemin Moshe
March 19, 2008

Be Still, Ye Lovely Strings...mostly cantatas

The Barrocade Orchestra is a new ensemble performing several genres of Baroque music, including sacred music, opera, art- and folk music as well as music written for theatre. Performance is on period instruments. All ensemble members are Early Music specialists who have studied and performed in Europe and are now based in Israel. The orchestra has no “resident conductor” and decisions and management are shared equally among the players. St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, filled to capacity, was the venue for “Be Still, ye Lovely Strings”.

The concert opened with J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) cantata “Was willst du dich betrueben” (“Why are you distressed?”) BWV 107 composed in Leipzig in 1724. The text is based on a hymn by Johann Hermann (1585-1647), a Lutheran pastor considered to be the most important chorale text writer of his time. The four guest singers - soprano Ye’ela Avital, countertenor David Feldman, tenor Robert Sellier and bass Yair Goren - performed as both soloists and choir throughout the evening. Scoring included flutes, oboes, theorbo (a large member of the lute family), organ and harpsichord, with the orchestra’s low-pitched instruments, including viols, creating a firm and colorful harmonic bass. Organist Aviad Stier conducted throughout the evening. Visiting German tenor Sellier’s demonic aria offered opportunities for word painting and he took up each of them with relish.
“Although soon from hell’s cavern
The devil should himself desire to rise against thee
And rage before thy face…”
The audience delighted in Avital’s creamy voice and expressive performance in an aria accompanied by keyboard, low strings and two oboes, her voice in conversation with the oboes.

Johann Rosenmueller (1619-1684) began his career as an organist in Leipzig, Germany. From 1658, he was employed at St Mark’s in Venice, returning to Germany in his last years. He was, therefore, important for transmitting the Italian Baroque style to the north, his own compositional style reflecting the influence of Corelli and Legrenzi. Rosenmueller’s Sonata settima from Sonata a 2, 3, 4 e 5 Stromenti da Arco & Altri was scored for strings, theorbo and keyboard. In typical Italian style, the work changed mood and rhythm frequently, was imitative and expressive. The Barrocade Ensemble’s signiature sound is bright and large, gregariously reaching out to its audience.

“Es steh Gott auf” is a setting of Psalm 68 from Heinrich Schuetz’s (1585-1672) second collection of Symphoniae Sacrae (1647). Born in Germany, Schuetz is considered to be one of the most important 17th century composers. He studied with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice and his best known works are in the field of sacred music. The Thirty Years War had devastated musical infrastructure in Germany, making it no longer possible to perform large works in the Venetian style which had marked Schuetz’ earlier period; the Symphoniae Sacrae is a collection of 27 German language cantatas and “Es steh Gott auf” (“May God arise”) has a number of different, short movements. Avital and Sellier gave us a fine reading of the work, interacting well with eachother. The final section, a chaconne, is musically and vocally demanding; the chaconne itself (an early dance over a repeated ground bass) was very effective, with the group making good use of plucked instruments together with strings.

The program ended with J.S.Bach’s secular cantata “Lass, Fuerstin, lass noch einen Strahl” (“Let, Princess, let still one more glance”) BWV 198, which was written as a funeral ode for Christiane Eberhardine, wife of August II the Strong and performed on an autumnal afternoon in October 1727. The libretto was written by Johann Christoph Gottshed, a professor of philosophy and poetry. Written in 11 movements, the first seven preceded the funeral oration. Set in the Italian style, with recitatives and arias for four soloists and four-part choir, two flutes, two oboes d’amore (a double-reeded woodwind instrument), two viols, two lutes and basso continuo, it was conducted by Bach himself from the harpsichord. The work is contemplative, full of sorrowful arias and dignified choruses as well as interesting effects (among them, funeral bells) and much word-painting. Countertenor David Feldman sings:
“The tolling of the trembling bells
Shall our lamenting souls’ great terror
Through their rebounding bronze awaken…”
Feldman has superb dramatic presence, his voice is stable and rich in colors and his ornamenting shows good taste.
In the tenor aria opening the second part of the cantata, there is a beautiful line on flutes supported by oboe d’amore; this was a breathtaking moment of expressive and well-shaped playing. Following the bass aria, depicting the various rivers flowing through Saxony, handled competently by Yair Goren, the work ends with a wistful chorus.

For an encore, we were treated to Franco-Flemish composer Heinrich Isaac’s (c.1450-1517) German language song “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (“Innsbruck, I Must Leave You”). The song expresses his sorrow at having to leave his post at court. The melody was either composed by Isaac or copied from earlier texts. The ensemble presented each stanza in different scorings: soprano with plucked instruments and low strings, only instruments, all singers and orchestra, all singers a cappella (unaccompanied). This was a poignant ending to an outstanding and exciting evening.

Kudos to Aviad Stier for excellent program notes.

“Be Still, Ye Lovely Strings”
Ye’ela Avital-soprano
David Feldman-countertenor
Robert Sellier-tenor
Yair Goren-baritone
St Andrew Scots Memorial Church
January 17, 2008

A Bach Celebration

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s most recent concert was truly a “Bach Celebration” in more ways than one: an evening where most of the performers were Israeli and were playing on historical instruments.

We heard two Brandenburg Concertos, works begun during J.S.Bach’s Weimar period, the final version of the six being presented to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721. Bach, in all modesty, titled these concerti grossi “Six concerts avec plusieurs instruments” (Six concerti for several instruments.)In Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 in F major BWV 1047, the concertino (solo group) calls for trumpet in F, recorder, oboe and violin. Guest artist American David Kjar played on a natural trumpet (no valves); due to the trumpet’s tuning limitations, the trumpet only plays in the first and third movements, which are both in F. In Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 the concertino consists of two recorders – played here by Lara Morris and Benny Aghassi - as well as a violin in an enormously demanding role –handled daringly by JBO member Noam Schuss. There was close interaction between the players, with altogether first class ensemble playing. The intimate second movement, with only the concertino, was pensive and engaging. The audience enjoyed Schuss’s bold treatment of the dramatic bowed effects in the third movement.

Bach’s Cantata no. 152 “Tritt auf die Glaubesbahn” (Walk in the Way of Faith) was composed in 1715, early in Bach’s Weimar period and calls for two singers, recorder, oboe, viola d’amore (a 6- or 7-stringed Baroque bowed instrument with sympathetic strings) , viola da gamba and basso continuo. A feature of the Wilhelmsburg Palace in Weimar was the chapel, in which the 20 or so cantatas Bach wrote there, providing material for the Lutheran church year, would have been performed. (The chapel had been referred to in 1702 as a world-famous masterpiece of architecture.) Bach was, at this time, changing his style to a more modern concept. In the Jerusalem performance, Shemer placed the viola d’amore, recorder and oboe on one side of the stage, the viol and violone (a large member of the viol family, a fretted instrument usually having six strings) on the other, with the singers and harpsichord in the middle. Actor, veteran radio person and translator Benny Hendel introduced the cantata and talked of the many interpretations one could find of the word “stone” in this work. (For those of us with a fascination for words, it would have been helpful to have the verbal text included the program.) Israeli soprano Keren Motseri sang the role of the Soul – her bright, clean tone and fine diction carried well and combined pleasingly with instrumental combinations, the latter also being of a high quality. Lara Morris’s performance on recorder was impressive. Israeli Bass Gabriel Loewenheim sang the part of Jesus. His voice has a true quality, his narrative and dramatic presence were engaging and communicative.

“Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” (Praise God in All Lands) was composed in 1730, when Bach was cantor of St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig. It is scored for soprano, trumpet, violins, violas and continuo. Both soprano and trumpet roles are demanding and brilliant in color, giving this popular cantata a festive character. The trumpet part was probably originally performed by Gottfried Reiche, Bach’s chief trumpeter in Leipzig; but there has been some speculation as to who would have sung the solo part at that time: women did not perform in the church in Bach’s day; this solo part, however, seems too virtuosic for a boy soprano to tackle…. David Kjar, in the JBO performance was playing a natural trumpet in C in this work. Motseri’s agility and competence gave her performance conviction and excitement: the many melismatic (one syllable sung over changing pitches) passages seemed to float weightlessly as she wove lyrical melodic strands into the general texture with tasteful ornamenting. The combination of trumpet and voice seemed to work so well due to Bach’s stringently instrumental demands on the human voice.

There is no room here to discuss all the performers. Suffice it to say that Shemer has very fine Baroque players at hand and his reading into each work is profound. This was an evening of much interest and enjoyment for concert-goers whose interest is in accuracy, authenticity, fine quality of sound and good performance.

“A Bach Celebration”
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra
David Shemer-musical director, harpsichord
Keren Motseri (Holland-Israel)-soprano
Gabriel Loewenheim-bass
David Kjar (USA)-trumpet
Aviad Gershoni (Italy-Israel)-oboe
Lara Morris-recorder
Benny Aghassi (Holland-Israel)-recorder
Noam Schuss-violin
Rachel Ringelstein-violin
Anna Yoffe-viola d’amore
Myrna Herzog-viola da gamba

The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, the Jerusalem YMCA
April 9 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

David Shemer's performance of the Goldberg Variations

J.S.Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” …where does one begin? Perhaps by discounting many of the stories attached to this monumental work. Goldberg, Bach’s pupil and assistant, was aged 13 at the time and who knows if he, brilliant as he was, could have performed it. It was published in 1741. The work had been commissioned by Count Keyserlingk, Russian ambassador to the Dresden court and a great music-lover. The title page, however, does not mention the Count, and Bach, in all humility, calls the work “Keyboard Practice”.

Dr David Shemer first began working on the Goldberg Variations in 2002 on his acquiring the double-manual Skowroneck harpsichord; the Goldberg Variations call for a double-manual instrument. German harpsichord- builder Martin Skowroneck, now 80, is authentic in his approach: the plectra, for example, are made of seagull feathers! Shemer played from a facsimile of the 1741 edition, with the addition of a few comments of Bach’s which Shemer himself had penciled in, according to an edition found much later, nowadays referred to as “the composer’s copy”. And, on the subject of authenticity, the harpsichord was tuned a tone down from modern pitch, give it a somber, warm quality.

The work opens with an Aria - in effect, a dignified Sarabande movement of 32 bars and a fixed harmonic pattern, highly embellished in the French manner –this is the subject of the 30 variations. Shemer begins it thoughtfully, giving it time to breathe. Then the variations follow in groups of three, each third being a canon. The work takes us through the gamut of Bach’s ideas, emotions and musical forms, beginning with the exuberance of the first variation. The second variation is a three-part Invention. In Variation 5, Bach has the hands crossing in large leaps. Variation 7 is an elegant two-voiced French Gigue, dotted and charming, Variation 19 is in the style of an elegant Passepied. Shemer presents the very many moods and contrasts challenging performer and listener – those of major versus minor, heavy textures versus few strands, dramatic moments, tranquility, intimate moments, virtuosity and simplicity. The technical demands and “acrobatics”, the fantasy and surprises, the differences and complexities of certain of the variations never fail to blow the listener away and seem to be aimed only at the most fearless and adventurous of harpsichordists. The last movement, a quodliblet boasting modesty and constructed of folksongs brings us back to basics and it always surprises me; for in variation 29, was not all hell loose?

And all the above can not describe the actual experience of hearing a player of the caliber of Shemer perform the work in full (and on a fine harpsichord.) The Goldberg Variations are a personal journey and surely a lifelong assignment; indeed, it was a privilege and moving experience for the audience to be a part of this process. This recital is surely a highlight of this year’s concert season.

J.S. Bach - Goldberg Variations
David Shemer-harpsichord
St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem
April 17, 2008