Sunday, February 21, 2010

Le Masque presents Baroque music at the Jerusalem Music Centre

Three members of Le Masque Baroque Music Ensemble from France performed a concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre February 17th 2010. Founded in Strasbourg in 1996 by Marc Hervieux, the ensemble includes several instrumentalists and singers involved in the performing of European music of the 17th- and 18th centuries. Those performing at this concert were Marc Hervieux (recorders), Lisa Erbes Baroque (‘cello) and Eva Valtova (harpsichord). The program focused on Italian aspects of Baroque style, Italian musicians having been at many of the courts of Europe in the 18th century. In their program notes Le Masque sets the scene for its audience by quoting German composer, flautist and teacher Johann Joachim Quantz’s description of the Italians as “unrestrained, sublime, lively, expressive, profound, free, daring, bold, extravagant…”

The evening opened with Michel Blavet’s ((1700-1768) Sonata in D minor “La Vibray”. A French court composer, flautist and bassoon player, Blavet was famous for his flute playing – his singing tone and brilliant technique set new technical standards throughout Europe. The Le Masque trio’s reading of his Sonata in D minor was gently swayed, with attention to ornamenting and dissonances, Hervieux bringing out the expressive quality of the piece. During the evening we also heard sonatas for recorder and basso continuo by Handel and Corelli. In the lively acoustic of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s auditorium, the ‘cello was occasionally a little too powerful.

An unusual item on the program focused on two of William Babell’s (c.1685-1723) transcriptions for harpsichord of pieces by Georg Friedrich Handel. Babell, an English church organist, violinist and harpsichordist in King George’s “Private Musick” was known as a brilliant improviser. His transcriptions of parts of Handel’s “Rinaldo” bristle with extravagant ornaments, leaving room for very few additions by the player. Handel, who had been Babell’s composition teacher, commented that Babell’s embellishments were so difficult that only Babell himself was capable of playing them! Czech-born Eva Valtova took up the challenge of performing the two pieces, presenting the rich textures and virtuoso passagework with mostly clean precision and energy. Seldom heard in the concert hall, these pieces made for fine listening.

Of particular interest was French composer Jean-Baptiste Barriere’s (1707-1747) Sonata for ‘Cello and Basso Continuo in B flat major. Barriere, originally a viol player, took up the ‘cello when it was fast becoming the more fashionable instrument in France, becoming a brilliant exponent of it. His ‘cello sonatas, combining Italian style with French taste, are technically highly demanding. Lisa Erbes’ performance addressed the many mood changes, humor and capriciousness of the piece, never allowing her technical virtuosity and ease to overshadow articulacy and the meaning of the music.

Hervieux and Erbes chose to play two of Domenico Scarlatti’s (1685-1757) keyboard sonatas on recorder and ‘cello. In the E minor Andante (K 291) Hervieux spelled out the mellow tones of the upper line on the voice flute; in the D minor tri-partite sonata (K89) Hervieux played the alto recorder, lavishing the middle Grave movement with much beautiful ornamentation.

Marc Hervieux performed one of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s (1689-1755) Solo Suites for Flute Solo opus 35 (1731), originally written for the Baroque transverse flute. Boismortier was one of the forerunners of the Italian style on French music. Hervieux’s performance of it was brilliantly presented, intense and alive and with ornaments, finger vibrato and invention – a veritable tour-de-force. Throughout the evening, the audience enjoyed Hervieux’s inspiring and stylistic recorder playing; he is a true master of the instrument and its literature, his tone mellifluous, his technique and ideas ever serving the musical plot.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tafillalt explores Jewish traditional music at Confederation House in Jerusalem

The Tafillalt Ensemble was formed in 2000 by three young Israeli musicians - Yair Harel (vocals, percussion, tar), Nori Jacoby (Viola, melodica, vocals) and Yonatan Niv (‘cello, vocals), students of Professor Andre Hajdu and members of Ha’oman Eighteen, a contemporary musical ensemble reflecting the style of the Radical Jewish Music projects in New York. At a recent concert in Jerusalem, the three artists were joined by Eitan Kirsch (double bass) and Yarden Erez (accordion, oud, keyboard, percussion). Tafillalt uses texts and melodies from Jewish prayer, sacred songs and texts of contemporary Israeli poets. A broad canvas of material, stemming from the Jewish traditional music from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe to those of Israel today, forms the basis for the detailed reworking of traditional melodies, for original compositions and improvisations based on old and new. Inclement, icy weather did not deter a curious crowd from attending the concert presented by Tafillalt February 4th 2010 at Jerusalem’s Zionist Confederation House.

From the first faraway, nostalgic strains of a melodica, the audience is transported to the personal and spiritual world of Jewish prayer and thought. The program opens with Yair Harel singing “Yachid Ram” (One and Most High”) a traditional Iraqi melody to verses by the liturgical poet and kabbalist Yisrael Najara, the text based on a Midrash description of the creation of the world. Rhythmically enticing yet articulate, its verses are punctuated with small instrumental solos. Harel’s singing is delicate, his Hebrew enunciation always in accordance to the melody’s ethnic tradition.

“Pli’ah” (Wonder), to a Hassidic melody, takes its text from Psalm 139. The instrumentalists provide an almost church-organ-effect of fluid chords, tinged with extra colors, the viola adding the occasional Hassidic motif. Harel takes time in pacing the text, expressive in his awe of each word.
‘Such knowledge is too wondrous for me; it is beyond me. I cannot attain it.
Where can I escape from your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (Hebrew: depths) behold, You are there.’…

Jerusalem-born poetess Rivka Miriam’s (b.1952) “Make Me a River” is the text for Yonatan Niv’s own musical setting. Sung by Niv himself, it is an introspective piece, its melody evocative of those of the Ladinotradition. Harel’s use of the tar – a 6-stringed, waisted Persian instrument plucked with a small metal plectrum - adds a contrast of timbre to the intensity of the melody.

A high point of the evening was “Hatikkun” (Amendment), a piece created from a penned note found by Niv in the streets of Jerusalem. The letter, expressing despair, is that of a person whose life has led him to drugs. The person hopes to replace drugs with a life of Torah, the “healing drug” that “makes the person happy”. Theatrical in concept, the work is a miniature drama. Harel both speaks and sings the text, the instrumentalists swinging from oriental melody to sheer sound effects, the strings vehemently joining and supporting the singer in his expression of confusion and despair.

And to 12th century Egypt, to “Moshe”, the earliest Jewish musical work known today. This piyyut (sacred poem) was found in the Cairo Genizah. A “screen” of sound based on a drone sets off Harel’s ornamented, devotional performance of the text. Harel is a singer whose profound study and knowledge of traditional Jewish and middle eastern music is matched with spirituality, passion and humility.

Tafillalt’s artists are young, their work based on strong musical background; they show a fine understanding of the many facets of Jewish music. Their performance is superbly coordinated, detailed and polished, imaginative, yet remaining within the bounds of good taste; together with that, their style allows for individuality and spontaneity. The ensemble’s use of instruments is delicate, tasteful and flexible. Instrumental backings refer to the ethnic style and modes of each piece, with colors, textures and timbres creating the rich scenery of Jewish traditional music. Their performance is high quality, thought-provoking and uplifting; it touches and moves the spirit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

American pianist Richard Goode to give a recital and master classes in Jerusalem

On Saturday March 6th 2010, the illustrious American pianist Richard Goode will be presenting his first Israeli recital. The concert will take place at 8:30 at the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre. Goode will be the guest of the Edward Aldwell Center of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Arthur Rubinstein Society. Born in New York in 1943, Richard Goode studied with several great musicians, among them pianists Rudolf Serkin, Claude Frank, Nadia Reisenberg, Mieczyslaw Horszowski and Karl Ulrich Schnabel; he made his New York debut in 1962. Goode’s repertoire is broad – he plays much chamber music, concerti, solo recitals and accompanies singers. He records extensively. Together with Mitsuko Uchida, he now serves as co-musical director of the Marlboro Music School and Festival.

Richard Goode’s approach to performing goes well beyond brilliant technique and musical ability: music-making, for him, revolves around the musical score, observation of constructional dimensions of a work, listening, the character and style of the composer and communicating both the composer’s- and his own ideas. He is a highly respected Beethoven interpreter, having performed and recorded the whole cycle of Beethoven sonatas, recently recording all five Beethoven Concertos. Insightful and open-minded, Goode’s modesty and generosity are ever present in his playing and teaching. The artist is performing his Jerusalem recital as a benefit concert for the nurturing of outstanding young pianists in Israel. The concert program will include works by W.Byrd, J.S.Bach, Chopin and Schumann.

In addition to his recital, Goode will be conducting master classes at the Edward Aldwell Center and at the Jerusalem Music Centre. Goode and the distinguished American pianist, scholar and teacher Edward Aldwell were colleagues – several Israeli pianists have been students of both Aldwell and Goode at the Mannes College of Music (New York). I talked to Yuval Cohen, the Edward Aldwell Center’s associate artistic director, who, when studying with Edward Aldwell, also took lessons with Goode. Cohen spoke of the “Young Piano Artists” program, whereby the Aldwell Center trains gifted young pianists from age 12 to 18 from all over Israel, several of whom will be taking part in the Goode master classes. The Edward Aldwell International Center for Piano Performance and Musicianship was established in Jerusalem by Lea Agmon, also a former student of Aldwell, who today serves as its artistic director.

Yuval Cohen, who teaches piano, jazz and theory at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and at the Conservatory, spoke of Goode as a teacher. Goode has a great sense of commitment to his teaching, requiring his students to inform him ahead of time as to what work they will bring to the lesson for study. A session usually lasts for a solid three hours and consists of Goode and the students exploring ideas together. For Goode, the student’s suggestions are discussed along with his own. The lesson will often end with the teacher lending the pupil one of the many books piled up in his music room, books not necessarily on the subject of music! Goode is passionate about literature and the arts in general.

Tickets for the March 6th concert can be purchased from the Jerusalem Theatre box office (02-5605755, or on-line). Students can buy tickets at greatly reduced prices.

For more information, contact Yuval Cohen (054-9439593) or Shuly Haberman of the Arthur Rubinstein Society (03-6856684).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"From the Depths" - works of J.S.Bach and Heinrich Schutz performed by The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble and the Barrocade Collective

The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble (musical director Yuval Ben Ozer) joined the Barrocade Collective Tuesday January 26th 2010 at St Andrews Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem for a concert of mostly Bach works titled “From the Depths”. Guest conductor was Frieder Bernius. Born in Germany in 1947, Bernius has become one of the leaders of the historically informed performance movement, focusing on the balance between vocal and instrumental forces.

The concert opened with J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Motet BWV 226 “Der Geist Hilft” (The Spirit Comes to Aid our Weakness) composed for the funeral of the Thomasschule rector J.H.Ernesti in 1729. Composed for double choir, Bach’s scoring calls for strings doubling the first choir and reeds doubling the second. In this performance, however, we heard mostly strings, with Amir Backman on Baroque oboe, with the continuo part (Yizhar Karshon-organ, Alon Portal-violone) providing a solid bass for the motet. The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble’s singing was fresh and flexible, with detached notes making for more articulate enunciation (no mean feat in the acoustics of Scottish Church.)

It was viol-player Amit Tiefenbrunn’s idea to have the Barrocade Ensemble perform a number of J.S.Bach’s fifteen Three-Part Inventions (Bach actually called them Sinfonias), his reason being that they could be played by whatever different instrumental combinations there were present for any given concert. Composed for keyboard for pedagogical use, the Three-Part Inventions first appeared in 1722 together with the Two-Part Inventions in the Clavier Buechlein compiled for Bach’s then young son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, composed for the purpose of teaching the mastering of the “cantabile style” and as studies in counterpoint, motivic writing and more. Not merely for students, these small gems are worth hearing at the hands of professional musicians. We heard five of them played on strings, theorbo, organ and oboe; articulately drawing out each melodic voice, the play of timbres, textures and light ornamentation created colors and dynamics in elegance and good taste.

In Heinrich Schutz’ (1585-1672) Motet SWV 37, “An den Wassern zu Babel” (By the Waters of Babylon) Psalm 137,for double choir and basso continuo, we heard beautifully crafted phrases and a nice juxtaposition of sections, a reminder that Schutz’s profound approach to sacred texts rides on emotional fervor.

Two J.S.Bach cantatas formed the centerpiece of the concert. The funeral cantata “Actus Tragicus” BWV 106 (God’s Time is the Very Best Time), one of the best known of Bach’s early cantatas, was probably composed in 1707 in Muhlhausen, where the composer served as organist for two years. The texts, consisting of Bible verses and chorale strophes, were drawn together by an anonymous compiler. Bach’s scoring for four-part chorus, two recorders (Katya Polin, Reuvena Hod), two viola da gambas and basso continuo create the soul-searching (but not continuously tragic) soundscape for this unique work. Bernius produced a pleasing and moving performance of the cantata, the intertwining of vocal solos and choral phrases articulate, expressive and richly colored, choir and instruments wedded in a fine balance. David Nortman’s golden vocal color and musicality go hand in hand. Soprano Avigail Gortler’s delightful, stable vocal performance glittering with a touch of ornamentation pleased the audience, as did Noa Doron’s rich, bright alto voice. Outstanding Israeli baritone Yair Polishook, a versatile singer and musician with good stage presence, gave an impressive and compelling reading of the texts. (Polishook’s German pronunciation needs some work.)

Bach’s Cantata BWV 131 “Aus der Tiefen” (Out of the Depths Have I Called), also composed in 1707 or 1708, was composed at the request of Georg Christian Eilmar, the Archdeacon of St. Mary’s in Muhlausen, and a close friend of the composer. It is thought that Eilmar may have been the author of the texts, which are based on Psalm 130 and which include a chorale by Bartholomaus Ringwaldt. Bernius’ tempi allow for word-painting and clear expression of all melodic strands, with languishingly haunting superimposed chorale passages set against arias. Tenor Tal Koch, an musician involved in theatre, composition and original performance, was convincing in expressing the soul’s yearning for the morning.
‘My soul waits for the Lord
From one morning watch until the next.’

The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble is attractive to the listener in that it balances blend with individual vocal color. Frieder Bernius, working with the NIVE and the creative, high quality Barrocade Collective as well as with young Israeli soloists, produced a Baroque concert of beauty and meaning. Baroque oboist Amir Backman’s performance throughout the evening was impressive.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra with conductor and viol player Roberto Gini

“In the Flames” was the title given to the third concert of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2009-2010 season January 20th 2010 at the Mary Nathaniel Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem YMCA. Viola da gamba player Roberto Gini (Italy), no newcomer to the JBO, Israeli audiences and early music instrumentalists, was both soloist and conductor in a concert that included works by Telemann, Handel and Sammartini. Gini was playing a viol made by Pierre Bohr (Milan). Dr. David Shemer, the JBO’s founder and musical director, was at the harpsichord. The vocal role in Handel’s cantata “In the Flames” was performed by Israeli soprano Anat Edri.

The evening’s program opened with Georg Philipp Telemann’s (1681-1767) Suite in D Major for Viola da Gamba and Strings TWV 55:D6. In his program notes, Shemer draws our attention to the uniqueness of this suite, mentioning that it is the only known orchestral suite with the viol as soloist, yet it is not a concerto. The Telemann suites would have doubled as individual instrumental works and overtures to operas. A late Telemann work, indeed the last preserved Telemann instrumental work, the Suite in D major for Viola da Gamba and Strings is, in its style, charm and wit, French in flavor; take, for example, the Ouverture, with its dotted figures, so reminiscent of French court music. The JBO’s performance of the work was rich in variety, each dance individual in expression, energy taking the form of imitation, virtuosity, majesty, delicately lilting moments and joy. Gini communicated with the orchestra as the players did with him.

Organist, choirmaster and teacher Giovanni Sammartini (1700-1775) was born in Milan and spent his life there, working as a maestro di cappella in 11 churches. He was the city’s most famous 18th century composer. Sammartini’s influence, however, was far spread, the composer publishing works outside of Italy and coming into contact with J.C.Bach, Mozart, Gluck and Boccherini. He began composing symphonies in 1772, laying the groundwork in leading the form from its function as an opera overture into its Classical (sonata form) entity, his development of the symphony including more wind instruments as time went on. Some 70 of his symphonies survive. (Sammartini’s symphonies were researched and published in a modern edition by Professor Bathia Churgin of Bar Ilan University together with American conductor Newell Jenkins, their order of the composer’s works known as the “JC List.”) Three of the early symphonies were heard at this concert, each chamber work having three movements, Gini reminding us that each of these short symphonies would have served as an overture to a cantata or other longer work.. Gini told the audience that Sammartini’s Symphony in A Major was first performed in Amsterdam with Vivaldi as soloist! The JBO’s performance of it brimmed with Italian effervescence, with Noam Schuss taking the solo violin role. In Symphony in D major JC15, Gini took the liberty of adding an oboe to the violin section and a bassoon to the basso continuo, claiming that not all was necessarily indicated in the score of these pieces. He referred to the work as “an explosion of brilliant ideas in 10 minutes”; performance of its second movement was a poignant, delicate treat. One senses Gini’s wholehearted involvement in this genre. The third symphony heard was Sammartini’s Symphony in G major JC 46, performed with elegance, shape and attention to contrast. Gini’s reading of the symphonies throws light on these small gems and was entertainment at its best.

And so, into the flames. Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) traveled to Italy in 1706, spending four years there, during which time he wrote a number of cantatas for solo voice and instrumental ensemble. Dramatic portrayals, substituting for opera which was banned in Rome, these were mainly performed in private homes. “Tra le Fiamme” (In the Flames), probably written in 1708, is among the finest works of this genre and is unique in its prominent viola da gamba part. Written for Cardinal Pamfilj, who provided the text from Greek mythology, the story is that of Icarus, wearing the wings made for him by his father, who flies too near the sun, with dire consequences following. The allegorical text, however, is concerned with the luring deception of charm and beauty in love. Anat Edri (b.1989, Israel), a vocal student at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, is a singer to watch. With a definite bent for Handel, she has lovely vocal color, glides well through melismatic passages and combines musicality with fine technique. Using her text, she needs to take more chances with emotional content, taking gestures further in intensity – to fly just that bit closer to the flames. Gini’s virtuoso performance spices up the orchestra, the recorders (Drora Bruck, Adi Silberberg) adding color and interest, taking flight with the vocal line.
‘Let him who can fly, fly through the air,
Let him skim over the earth, the sea,
Set off, return; never be still’..

Conductor and artistic director Roberto Gini, born 1958 in Milan, is a virtuoso player and esteemed teacher of bass viol and Baroque ‘cello. He brings with him high performance standards, knowledge, energy and the joy of music-making. This concert was a celebration for those who have a taste for the best of Baroque music.