Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Barrocade Ensemble opens its 2010-2011 season with a concert focusing on the viola da gamba

The Barrocade Ensemble recently opened its 2010-2011 season, its Jerusalem concert taking place at the Khan Theatre November10th, with a concert titled “Tous les matins du monde” (All the World’s Mornings). The title is that of a novel written by Pascal Quignard in 1991, with Alain Vorneau directing the screen adaptation of a film of the same name. It is the story of the French composer and viol player Sainte-Colombe, its title referring to the fact that “each day dawns once”. Jordi Savall plays the sound track of the film. Viol player and instrument builder Amit Tiefenbrunn talked of this Barrocade concert being dedicated to the viola da gamba as a solo- or accompanying instrument as well as in ensembles. The Barrocade Ensemble, composed of early music specialists, performs mostly without a conductor, with musical- and administrative issues shared equally among ensemble members.

The concert opened with four of Giovanni Gabrieli’s (c.1557-1612) “Canzone per sonare” for four viols from a collection issued by Alessandro Raverii in 1608. Attractive examples of the light polyphonic style that had developed during the 16th century from the French chanson, the Barrocade quartet’s playing of them lacked warmth of sound and was somewhat bland.

Things livened up, however, with Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern’s (1644-1704) Sonata for Trumpet and Strings in D major. A violin virtuoso, Biber composed and published extensively, being best known for his violin music and his use of scordatura (non-standard tuning of the violin) but his interest in innovative contrapuntal- and melodic invention is also evident in his works for the trumpet. Biber’s first published set of ensemble music, the “Sonatae tam aris, quam aulis servientes” (Sonatas as Much for the Alter as for the Table), contains twelve works for trumpets and strings, two of them being scored for one trumpet and strings. Yuval Shapiro, playing a Baroque trumpet, graced the string ensemble with his splendid velvety tone, playing with the entertaining metrical contrasts of the piece, soloing but also blending with the strings. He plays an American replica of a Nurenberg natural trumpet.

G.P.Telemann (1681-1767) composed six quartets for flute and continuo in 1730; the unscrupulous French publisher Le Clerc went and published them without the composer’s consent. Undaunted, the composer reworked and enriched them when visiting Paris in 1738, the result being the six “Paris” Quartets which constitute some of the finest Baroque chamber music there is. The Paris Quartet no.6 in E minor introduces French dance rhythms and beautiful melodic writing. Genevieve Blanchard (Baroque flute), Tal Arbel (viol) and Shlomit Sivan Jacobi’s (flute) performance was imbued with French delicacy, Sivan Jacobi ever careful to match, converse- and blend with Blanchard, and vice-versa. This was chamber music at its best, with virtuoso playing never overshadowing the work’s mix of temperament and elegance.

Marain Marais (1656-1728), the central figure of the French school of bass viol composers and a musician at Louis XIV’s court, was one of very many composers to have composed variations to the La Folia theme. Portuguese in origin meaning “mad” or “empty-headed”, La Folia was a fast dance until the 1670’s, adopting a slower pace after that time. Marain Marais composed his La Folia variations at age 21. His published version of “Les Folies d’Espagne” omitted some of the technically difficult variations that appear in the original manuscript, probably to encourage less virtuoso players to buy the book. Tal Arbel and Amit Tiefenbrunn playing bass viols, with Yizhar Karshon on harpsichord, gave a varied and colorful performance of the work in all its “Spanish” moods, the viol players each taking the opportunity to present the more solo role, the work’s poignant moments as thrilling as its energetic ones.

Francois Couperin, also a musician at the court of Louis XIV, wishing to cater to the fashion of Italian taste in France at the time, wrote (and performed) “La Sultane” under an Italian name, claiming the piece to be that of a musician in the service of the King of Sardinia. Somewhat of an enigma, scholars are not sure when this quartet sonata was composed or who the titular “sultaness” might have been. At any rate, despite Couperin’s intention, the work remains French in flavor, its two bass viol parts independent of the continuo bass. The players, leaning gently into its dissonances, gave the piece a sonorous and suave performance.

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) was one of Bologna’s finest violinists and a composer of concertos. Bologna, being home to a number of virtuoso trumpeters, was developing a rich tradition in trumpet-playing. Around 1690, Torelli began writing works for trumpet. His Concerto in D was probably performed on feast days at the San Petronio Basilica. Barrocade’s fresh reading of the piece featured Yuval Shapiro playing the solo, the Baroque trumpet’s warm, expressive sound no indication as to its tough technical challenges!

Soprano Yeela Avital gave the aria “Hark!” from Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) “The Fairy Queen” an energetic, joyful performance; although not all words were totally clear, Avital’s onomatopoeic description of the flapping of wings added charm and humor.
‘Hark! now the echoing air a triumph sings.
And all around pleas’d cupids clap their wings.’

The evening’s program ended with Yeela Avital and Barrocade performing G.F.Handel’s (1685-1733) cantata “Tra le fiamme” HWV170 (Into the Flames) (1708), one of the finest cantatas written when Handel was in Rome. These cantatas would have been performed in private homes. “Tra le fiamme” tells the allegorical story of Icarus who, with the wings made for him by Daedalus his father, flies too near the sun. Avital presents the emotions and detail of the story convincingly. She and the ensemble address its drama and urgency, building up to Aria 3 where Icarus is flying in the air, but also flying out of control. The voice (Avital) and flute (Blanchard) duet, evoking the sense of flying and weightlessness, created a superb and evocative moment.

The Barrocade Ensemble’s players have studied and performed in Europe, returning to Israel, the most recent returnee being the very outstanding viol player Tal Arbel. Mention should be made of Yizhar Karshon’s continuo playing which is always reliable, tasteful and interesting.

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