Monday, April 28, 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

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