Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosts oboist Alfredo Bernardini in works bridging from the Baroque to Classicism

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s sixth and final concert of the 2010-2011 subscription series – “Pygmalion” – focused music written in the transition between the Baroque- and Classical periods. Guest artist and conductor, oboist Alfredo Bernardini, joining the JBO for the first time, drew the audience’s attention to the fact that the works performed in this concert had been composed within a span of less than 30 years. Bernardini’s predilection for this music stems from its overtly emotional content. This writer (I am a member of the board of the JBO)attended the concert May 24th 2011 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship YMCA, Jerusalem.

Alfredo Bernardini (b. Rome, 1961) in Israel to direct JBO concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and hold master classes at the Israel Conservatory of Music, is among today’s leading Baroque oboists. A soloist and member of several prestigious early music ensembles, Bernardini researches the history of woodwind instruments. His more recent teaching appointments have been at the Escola de Musica de Cataluna (Barcelona) and the Conservatory of Amsterdam.

The evening’s program opened with the Suite from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s (1683-1764) “Pygmalion”, an opera written (in eight days) in 1748 to a libretto of the same name by Ballot de Sovot. The story, told and retold over the last 2000 years, of the artist who falls in love with one of his own sculptures, was the perfect vehicle for the typically French Baroque genre of the “acte de ballet”, an autonomous sung and danced stage work. Bernardini, his playing partnered well with that of oboist Shai Kribus, takes an energetic (and not the languishing) approach to the suite, creating lively interaction between the string section and the whole orchestra. The various dance types are presented individually and contrasted, with orchestral timbres and textural devices coloring a rich canvas: piccolos (Genevieve Blanchard, Idit Shemer), silvery harpsichord touches (David Shemer) with the rich, fruity quality of the woodwind section based and “bassed” on the secure, supportive, well-phrased and lively playing of bassoonist Alexander Fine throughout the evening.

In his program notes, Dr. David Shemer, JBO founder and director, draws attention to the fact that Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) “Lamentatione” Symphony no.26 in D minor (c.1770) is of the “da chiesa” genre of symphonies, having been “performed in conjunction with church services”. In fact, its motifs include Gregorian plainchant that weaves its way through the work, making for its somber atmosphere. Embodying the manner of “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress), the symphony belongs to Haydn’s middle period, and, although composed only 20 years later than the Rameau Suite, we are aware, from the outset, of the nervous, restless atmosphere the fabric of which the work is created. The horns (Baroque natural horns in the competent hands of Italian guest artists Alessandro Denabian and Fabio Forgiarini) served to add beauty and intensity to the ominous atmosphere. Even the Minuet and Trio are serious and austere, bringing to an end a work so different from those of the jolly, humorous Haydn we often hear in the concert hall.

Czech composer and instrumentalist Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) was one of the most influential figures in European music of the mid-18th century. A notice advertising a concert in Frankfurt am Main on June 29th 1742 informed the public that Stamitz was to perform alternately on violin, viola d’amore, ‘cello and double bass and that the concert would also include a concerto for two orchestras composed by him! He is known for his work with the Mannheim Orchestra (referred to by Burney as an “army of generals”), composing a number of concertos (14 for flute), yet only one for oboe, all of them probably inspired by the fine standard of the players of the Mannheim Orchestra. We heard Johann Stamitz’s exuberant Concerto for Oboe, its technical demands on the oboe apparent from the very first strains of the opening Allegro movement. Bernardini’s treatment of the warm, gallant slow movement was delicate and embellished, his (Bernardini’s) original, spontaneous cadenza carefully spelled out. Lyrical, charming, infused with Bohemian joie-de-vivre and virtuosity, the work also attests to the emergence of the Classical style. Bernardini’s leading and playing held the work’s energy and excitement to the end.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s prodigiously talented second son, wrote 19 symphonies, the Wq 183 symphonies among his greatest symphonic achievements. Symphony in D major Wq 183/1 calls for horns, oboes and bassoon. Peppered with urgency, leaps, rapid mood changes and jagged melodic lines, we are faced with C.P.E.Bach’s “Empfindsamkeit” style, in which emotions are the driving force behind his musical expression. The composer wrote that “music has higher intentions…to set the heart in motion”. Intense, yet spontaneous in character, the JBO’s performance of the symphony spoke of energy and joy, of rich orchestral color and vitality. Bernardini and his players let their hair down, taking on board the adventurous, innovative and individual character of this music. The audience was thrilled.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2010-2011 season, now ended, was one of highlights, much interest and fine performances. Baroque music lovers have yet another treat in store. The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra will perform four of J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerts (3, 4, 5 and 6) at the Jerusalem Opera Festival. The concert will take place June 3rd at 11:30 a.m. at the St. Vincent de Paul Church (Mamilla, Jerusalem.) Subscribers to the 2011-2012 season are eligible for reduced price tickets. These can be purchased at Bimot: (02) 6237000

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