Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Patrick Cohen-Akenine leads and solos with Barrocade in "Bach in Versailles" at the Weill Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu

“Bach in Versailles” was the title of the third concert of Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective’s 2010-2011 season. This writer attended the concert at the Weill Auditorium, Kfar Shmaryahu January 25th, 2011. Violinist Patrick Cohen-Akenine (France) was both soloist and leader. He was joined by soprano Yeela Avital, recorder-player and Baroque flautist Anja Hufnagel (Germany), oboist Shai Kribus and violist Katya Polin (recorder).

The Barrocade Ensemble (musical director Amit Tiefenbrunn) was established in 2007 by a number of Israeli early music artists returning from studies and performance experience in Europe. Some are also instrument builders. The ensemble mostly plays without a conductor, as did such groups in the 18th century.

On his first concert tour of Israel, Patrick Cohen-Akenine (b.1966) began his career specializing in chamber music performance, working with some of the greatest quartets; the other “string in his bow” is early music. He studied Baroque violin with Patrick Bismuth and Enrico Gatti, has led several Baroque ensembles and, in 2000, formed “Les Folies Francoises” – a group exploring instrumental and vocal repertoire of the 17th- and 18th centuries as well as that of the classical period. Together with a number of musicians and musicologists, Cohen-Akenine is researching French music and instruments of the 17th century.

Anja Hufnagel made her Israeli debut with this Barrocade concert. Born in Germany, she studied at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music. Since 1992, Hufnagel has been residing in Berlin, performing, recording and teaching. She has founded early music ensembles – “Isle of Beauty”, “Petite folle”, and “Les Baronnies”, and has won the Berlin “Alte Musik-Treff” (Meeting of Old Music) Award for three years in succession.

Israeli soprano Ye’ela Avital studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, proceeding to the Hochschule fur Musik in Mainz, Germany. A recipient of scholarships and awards, she has performed with many ensembles, in festivals and competitions in Israel and further afield. Her repertoire spans from early- to contemporary music.

Born in Moscow in 1987, Katya Polin immigrated to Israel in 1991. A graduate of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s Outstanding Young Musicians Program, she performs in several Baroque ensembles on both recorder and viola, has won scholarships and prizes and is a keen chamber music player. She is currently studying at the Schola Cantorum in Basel.

Shai Kribus began his studies with piano, recorder and oboe, moving his focus to Baroque instruments. He is presently studying recorder and oboe at the Basel Schola Cantorum, is the recipient of a B’nai B’rith and America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarships and has been chosen to play first oboe with the international orchestra of the Aix-en-Provence Festival (France.)

The concert opened with J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 4, BWV 1049. Presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721, the six Brandenburg Concertos were scored for the instrumentalists Bach had at hand in Cothen. In Concerto no. 4, the violin has a virtuoso role in the outer movements; despite that, Cohen-Akenine puts emphasis on creating delicate textures that allow all melodic strands to emerge naturally. Hufnagel and Polin’s duo recorder playing was well coordinated and lively. The central Andante movement, gently swayed, was poignant, with recorders and violin exchanging comments.

Surviving only because of a copy made by Johannes Rinck in 1730, J.S.Bach’s Wedding Cantata BWV 202 remains a mystery as to when it was composed and for what event; it was supposedly written for a wedding, considering the Bach family tradition of such works. In the Italian cantata style, it consists of arias alternated with secco recitatives. Its beauty lies in the variety of instrumental combinations and in its fine text rich in lush nature descriptions and images of love. It opens on an introspective note (for a wedding cantata) with the vocal line (Ye’ela Avital) intertwining with that of the oboe (Shai Kribus).
‘Give way now, dismal shadows,
Frost and wind, go to rest!
Flora’s delights
Will grant our hearts
Nothing but joyful fortune,
For she comes bearing flowers….’
In the second aria, scored for voice and continuo, the harpsichord (Yizhar Karshon) role describes how “Phoebus hurries with swift horses” with much detailed passagework on the part of the harpsichord. In the third aria, the text is evocative and sensuous, Cohen-Akenine’s beautifully nuanced violin solo eloquently reflecting the words. The fourth aria takes an earthier approach to love, Kribus’s playing of the oboe solo jaunty, his playing exuding joy, humor and ease. With the wedding festivities under way, the final aria takes the form of a sprightly gavotte. Ye’ela Avital’s mellifluous singing tied in well with the work’s aesthetic beauty. Cohen-Akenine and the Barrocade players gave expression to the work’s instrumental interest.

The French composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau wrote “Pygmalion”, an Acte de Ballet, in eight days. It was premiered in Paris in 1748 and quickly became one of Rameau’s greatest “hits”. The story of Pygmalion, who falls in love with the statue he is sculpting, eventually bringing it to life, was the inspiration for this sung and danced work. Consisting of music that is both lively and tenderly lyrical, Cohen-Akenine’s reading of it is stylish, subtle and soave. Poignant moments were created by Genevieve Blanchard (Baroque flute, piccolo) and the versatile, spirited Anja Hufnagel (Baroque flute, piccolo, recorder.) The ensemble performed a selection of instrumental pieces, with Ye’ela Avital singing a recitative and air.

Rameau’s “tragedie-lyrique” opera “Hippolyte et Aricie”, his first opera, was first performed in 1733. A story of unscrupulous love, anguish, jealousy and hellish scenes, Rameau’s setting of it is rich in variety and consistently attractive. Cohen-Akenine, avoiding the storm-, monster- and underworld scenes, led Barrocade in a serious of dances and pieces, fluid in with French grace and delicacy. The Ariette: Rossignols amoureux (Amorous Nightingales) was surely a high point of the evening, with Cohen-Akenine, Blanchard and Avital evoking bird calls with the subtle dynamic inflections closely bound with the French language and subject.
‘Nightingales in love, echo our song
In your sweet warblings…’
In it, Blanchard’s playing was expressive and masterful; Avital’s descriptive melismas were delightfully shaped and well controlled. The suite ended with an earthy Contredanse, reminding us of the lowly origins of many a court dance.

The Barrocade Ensemble, with visiting Patrick Cohen-Akenine, provided its audience with the best of royal entertainment. Cohen-Akenine is inspirational to players and listeners alike, his modest approach being one of a specific instrumental timbre of well-blended sound. Anja Hufnagel’s ebullient personality and freshness of approach added much to the enjoyment of the program. For its encore, the ensemble and Avital swiftly wrenched the audience from the salon of aristocrats to a smoky nightclub to perform their pleasantly jazzy version of Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves” (lyrics: Jacques Prevert.) With that, the scintillating atmosphere of the evening’s German- and French Baroque music had evaporated into thin air, and more the pity.

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