Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Folk Baroque in Jerusalem, concert with a difference

Imagine walking into the auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Centre to hear a concert of the Barrocade ensemble and seeing an electric guitar leaning against Amit Tiefenbrunn’s chair .After collecting my wits, I decided to shed all authentic hang-ups and settled down to enjoy what turned out to be a pleasurable and exuberant end to the group’s 2007-2008 season, its first. Functioning as both soloists and ensemble players, Barrocade members have studied historical performance practice at leading European conservatories and play on replicas of original 17th and 18th century instruments and without a conductor. Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective, definitely has its own signature sound and style. Arrangements of works for this concert were written by Amit Tiefenbrunn, the group’s musical director and viol and violine player; he teaches and also builds historical bowed instruments.

Oboist and composer Andre Philidor (c.1647-1730) compiled a collection of French court music from the reign of Henri III to the end of the 17th century. Introduced by the drum, we heard four of these court dances - each differently orchestrated. In the lilting “La Spanioletta” we heard Michael Ely playing a solo on Baroque guitar against plucked instruments and harpsichord. Baroque flautist and instrument builder Boaz Berney took over the solo, adding elegant embellishments. This was followed by an energetic and colorful Bourree.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) dedicated his “Come ye Sons of Art, away” to Queen Mary in 1694. The text, probably by Nahum Tate, is full of references to music and musical instruments. “Strike the Viol” was sung by soprano Keren Hadar, firstly against the minimal accompaniment of a single tambourine and double bass, moving into fuller orchestration. Somehow the rhythm adopted a jazzy flavor, and, with the smoothest of transitions, there we were suddenly tapping our feet to Paul Desmond’s (1924-1977) “Take Five”, with Tiefenbrunn improvising on the electric guitar and Hadar joining in the melody.

English composer, singer lutenist and diplomat John Dowland (1563-1626) is known for his melancholy lute songs and consort music. “Flow My Tears”, first published in 1600, begins with The “falling tear motif” (a,g,f,e) which forms the basis for Dowland’s “Lachrimae” (Tears) pieces, many arrangements of which exist. Hadar, whose background includes theatre, captured the tragic character of the song, exercising fine vocal control. In Dowland’s much performed “Frog Galliard”, from his “First Booke of Songes or Ayres”, we heard each verse played with different instrumentation: Yizhar Karshon played the first on harpsichord, the second was heard on plucked instruments spiced with a hint of percussion; and in the third, the melody was played on the violin and highly ornamented. “Fine Knacks for Ladies” is a madrigal in the form of a street-seller’s song. The text, written by Dowland himself, speaks of human characteristics and the worth of worldly things. Here, Barrocade’s alternating of vocal and instrumental stanzas was effective. The verbal text is complex, challenging and full of allusions, no easy task for any singer.

Venetian priest, violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was one of many composers to write variations on the melody and chord progression of “La Folia” (The Folly). This piece, boasting some sixteen variations, is a fine vehicle for displaying Barrocade’s many instrumental textures, combinations and moods. Each small variation presented new interest as well as virtuosic performance.

Italian composer and priest, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) composed his declamatory “Si dolce e il tormento” (So Sweet is the Torment) in 1624. The ensemble’s delicate playing was interestingly contrasted by Hadar’s dramatic reading of the madrigal. Italian Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was one of the most important composers of keyboard music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. Here we heard his secular song “Se l’aura spira”. The ensemble serenaded and “commented” on the vocal line as well as introducing each verse.
‘When the graceful breeze blows,
The fresh rose laughs
And the shady hedge of emerald green
Has no fear of the summer heat.’

With a genuine blend of Baroque and folk motifs, we heard the Presto movement from G.P.Telemann’s (1681-1676) Concerto for Flute and Recorder in e minor. This movement has many features of folk music and dances, with strident accents, whirling figures, long sustained notes, bagpipe-type drones and gypsy trills…certainly not your typical Baroque movement. The audience enjoyed the joy and energy inspired by Katya Polin (recorder) and Boaz Berney (Baroque flute.)

Of a totally different style, two traditional Ladino songs were performed: the Turkish version of “Alta alta es la luna” (High is the Moon) and “En la mar ay una torre” (In the Sea There is a Tower), a folk song originating in Spain. In the former, we heard talented young oud player Alon Portal in the solo. A drum transition from the first song to the next was effective. The ensemble was now an oriental orchestra, playing delicately in unison, oud and singer also in unison. Keren Hadar was convincing and showed familiarity with this medium. Also on the program was the anonymous Spanish song “Rodrigo Martines”. The viol introduced the song with a fifth drone, to be joined by the ensemble, with castanets adding Spanish fire. This simple rhythmic melody sung in strident, folksy manner by Hadar, is, itself, within the range of a fifth.

The program included two English folk songs. To a drone reminiscent of bagpipes, Hadar sang the much-loved Somerset folk song “Oh No John”, of which there are two versions, both slightly risqué, both entertaining. “Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?” is a song dating back to medieval times. It would have been sung by bards who went from town to town, with many versions emerging in time. The man singing has been jilted by his lover and assigns her all sorts of impossible tasks in order to explain to her that love sometimes requires doing things that seem unreasonable. Beautifully arranged, it began with a flute solo, played by Kimberly Reine, then a verse of singing, a recorder solo, and so on. Hadar’s performance of these folk songs was poignant. Unusual percussion instruments lent color to the texture.

The evening ended with a wild and joyful instrumental version of “Golden Brown”, a song about heroin and a girl, by the English rock band, “The Stranglers”. Boaz Berney playing a Jew’s harp gave the piece a whimsical twist.

This was certainly a concert with a difference and it worked well. Barrocade has a vivid palette of colors and excellent players. Unfortunately, there is no room here to mention the merits of all instrumentalists, all of whom are hand picked – however, I do wish to mention percussionist Shiko Sinai whose contribution to the evening was both outstanding and tasteful; Katya Polin was impressive on both recorder and viola. Baroque violinist Shlomit Sivan’s playing was excellent, as was that of those playing plucked instruments. Keren Hadar is a versatile and daring musician with a generous, highly colored voice; she performs a very wide range of vocal styles. For Renaissance and Baroque music, perhaps using less vibrato would be in order. Kudos to Amit Tiefenbrunn for his many superb and interesting arrangements.

Barrocade’s 2008-2009 season will be dedicated to “musical journeys’, from a visit to Bach’s home, to the mysteries of Greek mythology, from vibrant Naples to the Jewish communities of Renaissance Venice and Mantua.

“Folk Baroque”
Amit Tiefenbrunn-musical director, viola da gamba
Keren Hadar-soprano
Shlomit Sivan-Baroque violin
Kimberly Reine, Boaz Berney- Baroque flutes
Katya Polin-viola, recorder
Shai Pecker-double bass
Jacob Reuven-mandolin
Michael Ely-Baroque guitar
Eitan Hoffer-lute, theorbo
Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord
Shiko Sinai-percussion
Alon Portal-oud
The Jerusalem Music Centre
June 18, 2008

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