Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Abu Gosh Festival,2008

The 33rd Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival took place June 6 to June 9 2008, offering 18 concerts in the local churches plus many outdoor performances. I had the pleasure of spending a few hours at the festival Monday June 9.

The courtyard of the Crusader Church provides tranquil relief from the scorching midday heat. Shaded by old trees, it is peaceful and quiet. In one corner, a local man was selling coffee, tea, olive oil and herbs. A recording of Gregorian chant was heard in the background. The Crypt itself was intimate, dark and cool. “La Fresca Rosa Ridente”, performed by Ayala Sicron (voice), Drora Bruck (recorders) and Barry Moscovitz (theorbo), presented 16th and 17th century Italian songs of spring and love. This title, “La Fresca Rosa Ridente”, is taken from an aria by G. Frescobaldi (1583-1643) – “Se l’aura spira”:
‘When the graceful breeze blows,
The fresh rose laughs
And the shady hedge of emerald green
Has no fear of the summer heat’.

We were presented with many aspects of spring and love. The program opened with all three artists performing an anonymous 16th century piece “Era di maggio” (It Was the Month of May). In C. Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) complex “Ecco di dolce raggi” (Here the Sweet Rays of Sun) for voice and theorbo (Scherzi Misicale, 1632) we learn that spring comes along to thaw the heart. In S.Landi’s (1587-1639) “T’amai gran tempo”, (I Have Loved You for a Long Time) however, love has turned sour. The man addresses his lady, suggesting she look at birds rather than at other men. Ayala Sicron brought the text alive. She and Moscovits interacted well. In G.G. Gastoldi’s “Io foco son” (I Am as Fire) from his Balletti of 1594, we heard Sicron, Bruck (on tenor recorder) and Moscovits blending superbly in a mellow, homophonic piece that spoke of one lover being on fire, the other, ice! In Monteverdi’s “Ed e pur dunque vero”, (It is the Truth, Nevertheless) performed by all three artists, we were witness, yet again, to more suffering in love. The man (played by Sicron) has been left by Lydia (Bruck on soprano recorder). As voice and recorder reveal a miniature drama, we understand how unhappy he is, on one hand, and how exuberant Lydia is on the other. Despair has the last word. In “Menti lingua bugiarda” (Lying Tongue), Tarquinio Merula (1594-1665), whose years of employment as church organist were a series of scandals and acts of indecency, advises the lady to stop lying; she should need nobody else as he loves her. The recorder introduces the song, comments and provides charming interludes. Sicron’s performance invites the audience to be involved, her voice is creamy and she sings with vocal ease. Singer and composer, Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) was unique in that she published her works in single-composer volumes. Most of her works were for soprano voice and continuo, suggesting they were for her to perform. In “Amor dormiglione” (Dormant Love), Sicron gives the song a lively reading; her voice glides and skips at will.

To provide respite from the trials and tribulations of love, we heard some instrumental pieces. Bruck and Moscovits performed G.P.Cima’s (1570-1622) Sonata no. 1. Scored for recorder and theorbo, Bruck brought out the Italian temperament of the piece, showing fine technique and good taste. Dario Castello (c.1590-c.1630) was a composer and cornetto player in Venice. His Sonata II, played brilliantly by Bruck on soprano recorder with Moscovits on theorbo, is inventive and technically challenging, complex and entertaining. Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger (c.1580-1651) is mostly remembered for his works for lute and chitarrone. To the enjoyment of the audience, Barry Moscovits performed Kapsberger’s “Toccata arpeggiata” (1604) with elegance and attention to the many surprising harmonic developments, contrasts and unusual rhythmic groupings of the piece.

The Crypt was a fitting venue for “La Fresca Rosa Ridente”, performance was of a high standard, explanations were informative and the program well balanced.

Behind the Kiryat Yearim Church, in a spot that boasts the most wonderful view, there are leafy, old trees under which you can sit and listen to a relaxing, informal concert. “The Winds of Change” is a trio of orchestral players: Alexander Fine-bassoon, Dafna Yitzhaki-flute and Demetrios Karamintzas-oboe. They opened their recital with two Baroque works. Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto di Camera in g minor, performed here in its original scoring, is an attractive work in three movements. The pleasant acoustic of this venue gave each musical gesture expression. This was followed by G.P. Telemann’s (1681-1767) Sonata in c minor, also in its original scoring. In this sonata da chiesa, the audience enjoyed the contrasts between movements, the trio’s fine technique and clean tuning. J.Haydn’s London Trio no. 1 was originally written for flute, violin and ‘cello. It worked well on flute, oboe and bassoon and its Haydenesque lightness and joy came alive in the outdoors. C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s second son, composed only one sonata for oboe and bassoon. The piece, ending with a set of variations, delighted listeners gathered around. Young, Greek-born Karamintzas, a member of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, delighted listeners with his excellent playing. Fine is known to concert audiences both as an orchestral player and as a player of Baroque oboe and bassoon. His explanations and humorous comments were enjoyed by the audience.

The “Criolla Celebration, a Concert of Festive Music for Guadalupe” was performed in the Kiryat Yearim Church to a full house. This program is a collection of pieces put together by musicologist and researcher Bernardo Illari especially for the PHOENIX Ensemble and for the Abu Gosh Festival. Music of Baroque composers, such as Spaniards Tomas de Torrejon (1644-1728) and Juan de Araujo (c.1649-1712) and Bolivian composer Roque Jacinto de Chavarria (1688-1719) is represented; in addition, there are a number of traditional pieces of that region. The celebration is that of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, a festival which took place in the city of La Plata c.1717 and which lasted for more than a week.

PHOENIX, under the musical direction of Brazilian-born researcher and viol player Dr. Myrna Herzog, performed it on period instruments - such as the shawm, dulcian, harpsichord, theorbo, Baroque guitar, recorder, viol and harpsichord – producing a delicate but highly colorful consort timbre. The choir was the excellent Shachar Choir from Rechovot under the direction of Gila Brill. Vocal soloists were Macarena Lopez-Lavin-soprano, Michal Okon-soprano, Hadas Gur-mezzo-soprano, Shlomo Blumenfeld-baritone, Noa Horev-alto, Noa Stav-alto and Boaz Brill-tenor.

The performance opened with singers and percussionists entering in procession from the back of the church, singing “Todo el mundo en general” (May the Whole World Say in Full Voice) from La Plata (1717). The ensuing work is a mosaic of solos alternating with and joined by the other soloists or by the choir, creating the impression that all there are part of the festival. This is strengthened by the fact that we hear allusions to South American folk music and dances; singers sway to the rhythms and utter shouts of joy. Religious and secular are intertwined. Melodies are cushioned in richly-colored harmonies, inviting the audience to enjoy the accessibility of this music. There were poignant moments, too. The antiphonal “Silencio pasito” (Silence Softly), referring to Mary sleeping, was na├»ve and delicate as was Lopes’ solo in “Maria todo es Maria” (Mary, All is Mary) sung first against the viol in a very minimal setting, then joined by the women’s section of the choir. Michal Okon gave the almost fragrant “Cefiro de las flores” (Zephyr of the Flowers) a mellifluous reading. Hadas Gur and Boaz Brill, with smaller voices, were not always heard clearly above the ensemble. Lara Morris’ two recorder solos – the Cachua (an Indian dance from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) and “Baile de toritos” (Dance of the Small Bulls) – were brilliant. The first was an improvisation over an ostinato, whereas the second was an intense, purely melodic piece. Versatile baritone, Shlomo Blumenfeld’s voice has a warm quality which reaches out to his audience.

This Festive Baroque concert was the right fare for a festival. The concept of religious service, folk music, dance and spontaneity existing together is refreshing. The audience found its joyousness infectious. Having the text (and its translation) in the program was important to the understanding the of the various aspects of such a celebration. Herzog’s high standards of performance, her choice of musicians and attention to detail are her own hallmark of excellence; in this program, we also sense her love and familiarity of the spirit of South American music.

The Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival
June 9, 2008

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