Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in a program of Bach and Vivaldi

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s fifth concert for the 2009-2010 season - “Vivaldi, Bach and Harpsichord” – took place March 23rd 2010 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem YMCA. It focused on works by Vivaldi, J.S.Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In his program notes, Dr. David Shemer, founder and musical director of the JBO, speaks of Vivaldi’s profound influence “characterized by order, coherence and proportion” on J.S.Bach, this having been related by the latter’s second son, Carl Philipp Bach, to Nicolaus Forkel, the first J.S.Bach biographer.

Harpsichordist Shalev Ad-El was one of the three soloists, conducting the string orchestra from the harpsichord. Ad-El (born Israel, 1968) leads a busy international professional schedule of conducting, performing, teaching and recording.

The concert opened with C.P.E.Bach’s (1714-1788) Symphony in C major, Wq 182 No.3. One of a set of six string symphonies composed in Hamburg in 1773, Ad-El addresses the Sturm and Drang style of this music, presenting its richly cantabile melodies in juxtaposition to strong, dramatic themes and startling harmonic changes.

J.S.Bach’s Concerto in A major for Harpsichord and Strings, BWV 1055 (1738) was (as all his harpsichord concertos) a rewriting of an existing work of his, possibly a concerto for oboe d’amore, now lost. Exploring the possibilities of the harpsichord, the work entails much complex passagework, although not all of the detail sounded above the orchestra. Ad-El’s playing of expressive filigree melodies against the repetitive motif of the Larghetto movement was effectives, as were his elegantly shaped phrase endings throughout.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) composed over 500 concertos, his Opus 10, published 1729-1730 in Amsterdam, being a collection of six flute concertos. They were the first flute concertos ever published. Most of the Vivaldi Opus 10 concertos were given descriptive titles, most are based on earlier versions of concertos and all are scored for flute and strings. Unlike the modern concerto, the flute also joins in tutti sections. Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor “La Notte” (Night) for Flute and Strings opus 10 No.2 RV 439 originally existed as a chamber concerto for flute (or violin), two violins and bassoon. Unusually, it has six movements, two bearing titles - “Fantasmi” (Phantoms) and “Il Sonno” (Sleep.) Belgian flautist Jan de Winne (b.1962) is affiliated with a number of European ensembles, serves as artistic director of the Passacaille label and also builds replicas of 18th- and 19th century traverso flutes. His performance in this somewhat mysterious Vivaldi concerto was both virtuosic and commanding, moving the spirit and working in sensitively with Ad-El’s exciting play of colors and textures.

This was followed by Vivaldi’s Sinfonia “Al Santo Sepolcro” RV 169, its title possibly referring to a so-named chapel in Verallo, Italy, which was built as a scaled-down version of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem. A short piece in two movements, the work belongs to the Baroque “Passion music” style, depicting Christ’s pain and suffering, hence the use of chromaticism, sharp dissonances and harmonic instability. Ad-El gives it an emotional, flexible reading, infusing expression into its uncompromising message, making for interesting listening.

The concert ended with J.S.Bach’s Concerto in A minor for Flute, Violin, Harpsichord and Strings, BWV 1044. Joining the soloists in this work was Israeli violinist Dafna Ravid, a chamber music player and a JBO soloist as well as one of its principal violinists. The concerto, freely based on two of Bach’s keyboard pieces ( Prelude and Fugue in A minor for Harpsichord BWV 894 and Organ Sonata in D minor BWV 527), is supposed to have been composed between 1730 and 1735. Following the opening Allegro movement, in which Ad-El’s passagework boasts energy and articulate brilliance, with flute and violin commenting in melodic fragments, the second movement – Adagio, ma non tanto, e dolce – presents a new soundscape, in which the harpsichord moves to lute register, inviting flute and violin to engage in pastoral dialogue. Ravid and De Winne communicate well, creating balance colored with individuality. In the final movement, to which Bach gives the harpsichord the upper hand once more, the audience enjoyed the JBO’s warm sound and fine blend spiced with interesting melodic expression and textures.

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