Monday, October 25, 2010

Violinist Kati Debretzeni leads the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in a concert of late Baroque music

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra opened its 2010-2011 season at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA on October 12th 2010 with “Father, Son, Godfather and Gardener”, a program of late Baroque music. Baroque violinist Kati Debretzeni conducted the string orchestra (with founder and director of the JBO David Shemer at the harpsichord) and she was one of the soloists of the evening. Debretzeni, whose career in Baroque violin began in the JBO, now resides in the UK teaching and performing there and in Europe. Baroque violinists Boris Begelman, Dafna Ravid and Noam Schuss also soloed. Noam Schuss frequently leads the JBO violins, is first violinist of the Galathea String Quartet, a member of the Tel Aviv Soloists and teaches. Dafna Ravid, a principal lead violinist with the JBO, performs with the Israeli Bach Soloists and the Barrocade Ensemble. Boris Begelman (b. 1983, Moscow), one of today’s most promising Baroque violinists, is currently studying at the Palermo Conservatory, performs throughout Europe as a soloist and is concertmaster of “Il complesso barocco” and “Ensemble Antonio il Verso”, both in Italy.

The concert opened with George Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) Concerto Grosso in G Major, opus 6 no.1, one of a series of 12 lively and elegant concerti grossi for strings. Handel, one of the most assimilated and successful foreign-born composers working in London, knew on what side his bread was buttered. The concerto grosso was a popular genre in Britain, with several English composers writing them for performance. The concerto grosso’s popularity there actually stemmed from a set of twelve composed by Arcangelo Corelli, published 1714 in Amsterdam. Corelli’s Opus 6 remained a concert staple across Britain till the end of the century and Handel would have been well aware of the financial gains of catering to British concert taste. Handel composed his Opus 6 concerti in a burst of creative energy from September to October of 1739, his Opus 6 clearly paying homage to Corelli’s Opus 6. As in all the Handel opus 6 concerti grossi, the concertino in no.1 consists of two violins, a ‘cello and a chordal continuo instrument (harpsichord), with the ripieno consisting of violins, violas, ‘cello and continuo. With Debretzeni leading articulately, the audience enjoyed the contrasts of lyrical and serious with the carefree last movements, woven together with small, clean gestures and harmonic surprises. Debretzeni and violinist Boris Begelman provided a communicative dialogue. Begelman’s playing throughout the evening was a breath of fresh air.

And talking of financial profit, Georg Philip Telemann’s “Tafelmusik” or “Musique de Table” (Table music), published in 1733, was sold by subscription, with other composers and aristocrats from eight different countries all paying good money to have their names inscribed on the first issues. Handel was one of the 206 subscribers and he took the liberty of borrowing from the material. A high quality work, representing different European styles, the Tafelmusik pieces offered much to attract and interest Telemann’s contemporaries. The volumes consist of three large sets or “Productions”, each containing an opening orchestral suite, a quartet, a concerto, a trio, a solo and an orchestral Conclusion. Each set would surely have provided a glittering evening’s entertainment for a banquet or feast. We heard Concerto in F major for Three Violins and Strings from part 2 of the Tafelmusik. In a reading bristling with diversity of expression, we heard Debretzeni, Schuss and Begelman as soloists.

C.P.E.Bach’s (1714-1788) Trio Sonata “Sanguenius und Melancholicus”, published in 1751, was one of the composer’s most programmatic chamber pieces. Kati Debretzeni explained the extra-musical plot, referring to the work as “theatre without words”. C.P.E. Bach himself wrote a long preface describing the main events of the work, outlining each mood and element: it was the composer’s aim to present a conversation between the gregarious, insistent Sangueneus (Debretzeni) and the coy, sad and reticent Melancholicus (Dafna Ravid), the two violinists expressing sentiments that would conventionally have been written into words and sung. Both artists assumed their roles convincingly and with humor, portraying the characters’ initial disagreement and gradual acceptance of each other. C.P.E. Bach’s typically improvisational-sounding score, using dramatic rests, a range of dynamics and textural variety, allows for the many effects, moods and characteristics he wishes to portray. Debretzeni and Ravid take the audience skillfully and expressively through a gamut of temperaments - from sad, complaining, questioning, pleading and bitter gestures to playful and happy sentiments. An interesting concept and well suited to the concert platform, the work was presented well and provided fine entertainment.

Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) L’Estro Armonico (Harmonic Inspiration or Harmonic Fancy) opus 3 for strings and basso continuo, published in 1711, was the collection that made Vivaldi’s reputation in Europe. Published in Amsterdam, it was one of the first sets of Italian concertos to be published outside of Italy and had much influence over musical taste, establishing the model of the 18th century concerto. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot referred to the opus 3 concertos as “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the eighteenth century”. The collection, issued in eight part books, has the 12 concertos arranged in four groups of three, each group containing a solo-, double- and quadruple concerto. “L’Estro Armonico” was dedicated to Ferdinand of Tuscany. Unusually, in the four-violin concertos, the four soloists are accompanied not by an orchestra but by two violas, solo ‘cello and continuo. Vivaldi’s Concerto in D major for Four Violins and Strings opus 3 no.1 is a fine concert piece and, in this concert, gave the audience a chance to hear a line-up of four outstanding Baroque violinists, each on his/her own, in pairs and together – Kati Debretzeni, Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid and Boris Begelman. They incorporated the work’s virtuosity naturally into a sincere and energetic reading, to the enjoyment of the audience.

Composed during the composer’s time in Cothen, where he had a fine orchestra at hand, the score of J.S.Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings has been lost. His son, C.P.E.Bach made a somewhat simplistic arrangement of it for harpsichord in 1733 or 1744, giving the violin the part to the right hand, with the left hand doubling the orchestral bass lines. It does, however, give us a clear outline of what the original violin part must have been. This score did survive. To be performed at concerts at the Zimmermann Café in Leipzig, J.S.Bach rearranged the work (BWV 1052), this version being more challenging and sophisticated than that of C.P.Bach. (The BWV 1052 concerto, Shemer commented, is often incorrectly referred to as a “piano concerto”.) Here, the violas play an important part. (Bach himself was a violist.) Shemer also points out that the reconstructed solo incorporates some of the highly idiomatic and virtuosic harpsichord style, making it by far the most difficult Bach violin concerto to perform. Kati Debretzeni’s performance of the solo violin part and leadership of the orchestra produced a performance that was based on fine balance and sincerity; Debrtzeni placed no less emphasis on the delicacy and poetry of melodic lines and good taste than on the work’s innate virtuosity.

As to the title of the concert, father and son are, of course, J.S.Bach and his second son C.P.E.Bach. Telemann was C.P.E.Bach’s godfather. In his program notes, Shemer informs us that Handel and Telemann both had a liking for gardening; they corresponded in French on their experiences at raising rare plants and even sent each other seeds!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (Germany) in Israel performing music from the 1920's and 1930's

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (Orchestra) have recently completed a concert tour of Israel. Raabe (b. 1962, Germany) trained as a baritone opera singer. Moving in a very different direction, he established his Palast Orchestra in 1986, specializing in the authentic performance of German and American songs, dance- and film music of the 1920’s and 1930’s, also presenting songs of the Comedian Harmonists.

Seated in the Sherover Theatre of the Jerusalem Theatre on October 20th 2010, we were swiftly removed from the realities of the 21st century to a cabaret in Berlin of 80 years ago, to the time of the Great Depression, a time when entertainers wore well-cut tuxedos, patent leather shoes and pomade on their perfectly cut hair, to a time when naïve, melodious love songs provided a distraction from times that were, indeed, tumultuous. In “Tonight or Never”, singer and bandleader Raabe introduces the songs and instrumental numbers in a minimal, whimsical and relaxed manner, his patter infused with the same gentle, inoffensive humor as the songs he sings. (Surtitles were shown above the stage, providing the audience with Hebrew translations of all the songs.) Moving away from the spotlight, leaning on the piano, Raabe gives his polished and brilliantly coordinated orchestra “front stage” to play lively foxtrots and nostalgic band favorites. His saxophones are velvety, his brass players shine, percussion effects are elegant and tasteful. Instrumental playing of this level seems a breeze, the players’ jaunty choreographic effects as detail perfect as their playing itself. And nobody conducts. Many of the Palast Orchestra members play more than one instrument, and, as the evening wears on, we discover that all the men playing are also singers! The only female member of the orchestra is violinist Cecilia Crisafulli; her playing shines and appeals, her personality and solos delight the audience.

Max Raabe is a tongue-in-cheek personality, his baritone voice mellifluous and soothing, his high register bright, controlled and flirtatious. With the wink of an eye and a hint of disarming decadence he performs many of the German songs popular around the 1930’s – “Marie, Marie” (music Johannes Brandt, lyrics Marc Roland), “Mein Gorilla hat ‘ne Villa im Zoo” (My gorilla has a house in the zoo) (music Walter Jurmann, Bronislaw Kaper, lyrics Fritz Rotter), “Roza, reizende Roza” (Roza, charming Roza) (music Hans J. Salter, lyrics Fritz Rotter), “Dort tanzt Lulu” (There goes Lulu dancing) (music and lyrics Will Meisel), and many more. We were also presented with many of the best loved English language songs of the time: “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (music Fabian Andre, Wilbur Schwandt, lyrics Gus Kahn), Cheek to Cheek (music and lyrics Irving Berlin), “Alabama Song” (music Kurt Weill, lyrics Berthold Brecht), and more. I believe Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Benny Goodman and Fred Astaire were hovering above the stage that evening.

With the evening drawing to a close, Raabe still had something up his sleeve – his players performed melodies with some perfectly synchronized handbell ringing. And a final treat - all the Palast Orchestra men sang a number in a blend of bright vocal timbres so reminiscent of that of the Comedian Harmonists. In short, the audience was swept of its feet by Max Raabe and his Palast Orchestra’s superior musicianship and joie-de-vivre. This was entertainment at its very best.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The HaOman Hai Ensemble opens the 2010-2011 "Music at the College" concert series at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem

“Music at the College” is a new series of concerts and cultural encounters taking place at Hebrew Union College (Jerusalem). A project taken on by Ofer Shelley - pianist, musicologist and founder of the Atar Trio – the opening concert on October 7th 2010 featured Andre Hajdu with members of the HaOman Hai Ensemble. The groundwork of this ensemble was laid some years back by Professor Hajdu with his students at the Israel Arts and Science Academy (Jerusalem) where Hajdu was teaching. They studied the music of the Chabad Hassidim, improvisation and the history of classical western music. Working on their arrangements collectively (each artist is both instrumentalist and singer) the musicians proceeded to work and perform in a studio at 18 HaOman Street. Jerusalem, hence the group’s name. Andre Hajdu has referred to his young co-musicians in this joint creative project as “stage animals” who “can play anything in the world: jazz, klezmer, Yiddish, classical music…” Those taking part in the concert at Hebrew Union College were Andre Hajdu (director, piano, vocals) Yair Harel (percussion, tar and vocals), Yonatan Niv (‘cello, vocals)and Eitan Kirsch (double bass, vocals0.

Andre Hajdu (b. Hungary 1932) studied with Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. He also studied much local folk music, becoming familiar with the Gypsies and their music. In 1956 he fled to Paris; there he studied with Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. Hajdu has also worked as a piano teacher in Tunisia. His study of Judaism was approached from the cultural, historic, artistic-musical and ethnographic points of view. Andre Hajdu came to Israel in 1966. He teaches, researches and composes and performs with HaOman Hai. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1997.

Yair Harel, one of the founders of HaOman Hai Ensemble, has a strong background in the gamut of traditional Jewish music, classical oriental music, oriental percussion instruments and contemporary music. His singing is earthy and from the soul, his percussion playing delicate.

Yonatan Niv (b.1979) is a ‘cellist, singer, composer and dancer, a member of a number of creative ensembles and has twice been a recipient of an America-Israel Cultural Foundation bursary for composition. He is expressive, his playing an singing blending tastefully into the textures created by the ensemble.

Double bass player Eitan Kirsch (b.1964) is a composer and jazz musician. He is involved in education, in klezmer festivals and running klezmer workshops for young players. His oeuvre includes pedagogical works and works based on Jewish traditional music.

The first half of the evening – “Kulmus Hanefesh” (Quill of the Soul), a musical journey into Hassidic music, explores the integration of Jewish folk niggunim and instrumental music from eastern Europe into contemporary art music. (Niggun is a Hebrew term for “humming music”, often referring to an improvisational form of “voice instrumental music” using syllables without texts or, alternatively, using verses of biblical texts.) The concert opened with a recording of Chassidic music, with the artists gradually joining in to produce a collage effect. This was followed by “Niggun rikud (Dance melody) sung in the typical style of vocal syllables, infused with mounting energy. The “Kulmus Hanefesh” songs reflect the eclectic quality of Hassidic music (and of that of its director); they include spiritual, joyful, soul-searching and intensively melodic moments, Yiddish word play, with some songs intimately prayerful and others brimming with harmonic color, jazzy effects and youthful vim.

“The Floating Tower” is a collection of Andre Hajdu’s Mishna Songs (1972-1973), as rearranged by the HaOman Hai Ensemble. (The Hebrew term “Mishnah” can refer to the full tradition of Oral Torah, transmitted and learned by word of mouth.) Hajdu poses the question as to how a modern person relates to these texts. He embarked on a two-year long private but intensive study of the texts, resulting in 56 settings of mishnaic texts. coming together under the title of “The Floating Tower”. The piece is a theatrical-musical work presenting ancient texts sung and accompanied in a rich variety of classical and modern styles. In fact, it is a veritable kaleidoscope of musical (and recorded crowd) effects, its musical influences spanning from the Renaissance to the 20th century, from Broadway associations, to a quote from Schubert’s “Marche militaire”, from whimsical, feisty percussive singing (The Rooster), to the music of Kurt Weill, to Jewish musical comedy, etc.

HaOman Hai has courageously come out with Jewish music in a presentation that is spiritually accessible to a wide audience. Hajdu and the young artists have immersed themselves in the meaning of the music, have allowed the texts to affect them on different levels and have over-layered them with their own personal interpretations. They play and sing both with conviction and convincingly, both individually and together. The performance is as original as it is deeply rooted in tradition. One hearing is not enough.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Musical Concerto - !6th and 17th vocal and instrumental music directed by Roberto Gini at the Einav Center (Tel Aviv)

The concert bore the title “Musical Concerto of Madrigals, Arias, Canzonettas and Sonatas by Signor Claudio Monteverdi and Other Excellent Composers”. Under the direction of viola da gamba player Roberto Gini, on this occasion at the harpsichord (playing a Henk Klop instrument) it took place at the Einav Center (Tel Aviv) on October 2nd 2010, following a week of an intensive 17th century seminar of secular music led by Maestro Gini (Italy), soprano Antonella Gianese (Italy) and recorder player Drora Bruck (Israel). Prior to the concert itself, we heard a few words from Ms. Carmella Calea of the Italian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv, the organization having generously supported the evening’s concert. The above-mentioned artists were joined by Israeli artists, all active in the lively local early music scene - soprano Ayala Sicron, baritone Yair Polishook, Baroque violinist Noam Schuss, Baroque ‘cellist Orit Messer Jacobi and theorbo player Eitan Hoffer.

The program focused on Italian secular music of the 16th- and 17th centuries - on arias, madrigals and on canzonettas. Gini referred to the different character of each vocal genre, who performed them and for whom performed. Interspersed were some representative instrumental works of the time.

Court composer Sigismondo D’India (1582-1629) referred to himself as “nobile palermitano” (a nobleman from Palermo). His monody “Piangono al pianger mio” (When I weep wild beasts weep too) (1609) was sung by soprano Ayala Sicron. Roberto Gini and Orit Messer provided the ostinato over which Sicron wove and built the increasingly emotional and musical intricacies of Ottavio Rinuccini’s poem of lovesick despair. The artists paced themselves, allowing for D’India’s word painting and musical effects to permeate the scene.

From the VII Libro di Madrigali of 1619 (Venice), Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) “Chiome d’oro” (Golden Tresses) presents a vigorous juxtaposition of two duets – two sopranos (Gianese, Sicron) against violin (Schuss) and recorder (Bruck), each pair presenting its own agenda, the audience kept on its toes by sudden departures from established musical patterns.
‘Golden tresses, oh so precious,
You bind me in a thousand ways
Whether coiled or flowing freely.

…Oh dear bonds in which I take delight!
Oh fair mortality!
Oh welcome wound!’

Theorbo player Eitan Hoffer poignantly led the audience into Jacopo Peri’s (1561-1633) “Caro e soave legno” (Dear and sweet lute) (1609). Till 1671, there had been a papal ban on women performing on the Roman stage and this piece, its text possibly by Rinuccini, was probably performed by three equal voices, most likely castrati singers. From 1600 to 1603, Peri was employed as accompanist and composer for the Concerto de’ castrati. As sung here by sopranos Gianese, Sicron and baritone Polishook, the question of vocal balance remains. In another Peri madrigal for 3 voices “O dolce anima mia” (O my sweet soul), from the same years of Peri’s employ, we heard a competent performance peppered with ornaments and melismatic passages.

Antonella Gianese performed Monteverdi’s aria “Et e pur dunque vero” (And as to the truth), a veritable mini-drama, a compelling and exciting work. Not the only heart-rending outpouring included in the composer’s 1632 edition of “Scherzi musicali cioe Arie, & Madrigali”, the performance was greatly enhanced by tasteful recorder soli (Bruck).

The “Canzonette spirituali e morali” are among Monteverdi’s earliest secular works; lightweight but clever in their wordplay, they are designed to entertain all who listen to them. By 1584 the precocious young composer was turning out canzonets that showed polyphonic skill incorporated with the use of dance and folk music and unrestrained joy and humor. We were presented with a number of them, to the enjoyment of all - artists and audience alike. Following the strophic canzonet “Fugi fugi se vuoi vincere” (Escape, escape if you wish to be victorous) we heard the instrumental ensemble in a fine performance of Biagio Marini’s (1597-1665) Sonata sopra “Fuggi dolente core” (Escape wretched heart) for chamber instruments and continuo (1655). Essentially a set of variations, it uses the melody of the above song as a wandering cantus firmus.

As to the instrumental pieces, we heard Salomone Rossi’s (1570-1630) Sonata a 2 in diologo detta “La Viena”, in which violinist Noam Schuss and Drora Bruck communicated in a poetic dialogue. In sonatas by Milanese composer Giovanni Paolo Cima (1570-1622) we were treated to superb recorder playing by Bruck (Sonata a Flauto e Violone). Messer Jacobi and Schuss’s knowledge of style and unfailing excellence made for a delightful reading of Cima’s Sonata for Violin and Violone (1610). Altogether, the instrumentalists supported the singers and graced the evening with precise and elegant playing.

Bringing the concert to an end, singers and instrumentalists joined to present Monteverdi’s colorful, courtly Entrata e Balletto “De la bellezza le dovute lodi” (Beauty’s Due Praises) (1607).

Roberto Gini’s programs have theme and direction. Gini puts works and composers into perspective; concert-goers will always leave his concerts with new knowledge, The printed program, in both Italian and Hebrew, included detail as to each composer and piece.