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.

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