Thursday, July 9, 2009

Barrocade's "Alla Neapolitana" at the Jerusalem YMCA

Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective, brought its second concert season to a close July 2nd 2009, at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem YMCA with “Neapolitan Sounds”. The ensemble plays without a conductor, all members contributing ideas as to how each work is to be performed.

Neapolitan composers of the early 18th century were famous for their operas. The works heard in this concert, however, remind one of the wonderful instrumental writing of the time. The concert opened with Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) Sinfonia in F major, scored for strings and continuo. A fitting, Italian-style aperitif, it was played with grace and humor.

Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), one of the most successful and influential opera composers of his time, had a colorful life. Educated in Naples, his professional life took him to Vienna, Paris and Russia, but he returned to Naples. He composed more than 80 operas, 40 masses and some instrumental music. Jacob Reuven was the soloist in Paisiello’s Mandolin Concerto in E flat major. (Actually, there is some doubt as to whether this concerto was really composed by Paisiello.) A work of delicacy, the first movement – Allegro maestoso – features several duet passages involving mandolin (Reuven) and violin (Shlomit Sivan), in which both artists collaborated very closely, the violin never overpowering the gentle mandolin. In the second movement - Larghetto grazioso – the ensemble’s bass instruments were a little too heavy for Reuven’s cantabile passages. His tiny cadenza was a pleasing treat. In the final dancelike allegretto, Reuven frolics and glides through the movement with ease and charm.

Pergolesi, himself, was a brilliant violinist. His gift for vocal writing shines through in his forceful yet elegant Violin Concerto in B flat major. Soloist was Israeli violinist and violist Nitai Zori. From the very first notes of the opening Allegro, Zori is commanding in his energy and forthright approach. Playing with virtuosity and temperament, he breathes life into the score, watching his fellow players all the way, using small rests for dramatic effect. In the Largo, Zori, shapes and colors the Siciliano-type line; he follows this with an articulate and brilliant performance of the final Allegro. This was Zori’s first performance on Baroque violin, and a gripping performance it was, too.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was the only outsider in the concert, visiting from Venice. His Concerto for Two Mandolins, Strings and Continuo in G major, RV 532, composed some time before 1732, was probably intended for the mandolino, a 6-stringed instrument popular in Venice at the time. Soloists were seasoned performers - Alon Sariel and Jacob Reuven. In the opening Allegro in ritornello form, soloists Sariel and Reuven interact, joining the carefree, lightly crisp tempo. In the Andante movement, in D minor, with the mandolins backed only by pizzicato violins and violas, Sariel and Reuven weave melodic lines, overlap and imitate, their finely coordinated and ornamented phrases crafted with exquisite delicacy. The last movement, also in ritornello form, returns us to the earlier driving rhythms, the two soloists dealing with its intricacies with ease and youthful joy.

After intermission, the concert audience was transported from the Jerusalem YMCA hall to a small venue in Naples, perhaps a restaurant by the port. The lighting may have been turned low and we could have been seated around heavy wooden tables, with handsome Italian waiters pouring us glasses of wine from carafes. We were to hear a selection of Neapolitan songs performed by opera singer - soprano Amalia Ishak. Born in Israel, Ishak has spent time in Italy, studying at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. She invites her audience to emote with her, to shed its concert hall formality and join her in the extravagancies of Italian song. She opens with Vincenzo D’Annibale’s “O paese d’o sole” (O Land of Sun.), and, with the nostalgic strains of mandolins suggesting a Mediterranean summer’s day, we join Ishak in her flamboyant presentation of Italian joy, here and there tainted by bitterly disappointed love.
‘Today I am so happy
That I feel like crying.
Is it true, can it be,
Have I returned to Naples?
Am I here?
The train was still in the station
When I heard the first songs of the mandolins.”

Ishak has a large voice, she uses the space of her stage and indulges in the sentiments the songs depict as if her own. Salvatore Cardillo (1874-1947) composed the beautiful Neapolitan song “Core ‘ngrato” (Ungrateful Heart) in 1911 for Enrico Caruso. Ishak’s performance of it is melodramatic but she shows fine control of piano passages.

The ensemble played a vibrant and spirited arrangement of G. Rossini’s (1792-1868) tarantella “La Danza”, much to the enjoyment of the audience. The Barrocade Ensemble had put a lot of time and hard work into the instrumental arrangements of song accompaniments, some of which were adapted from poorly handwritten copies. Some were even played from chord schemes, with the players improvising around them. The end result was most effective.

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