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

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