Saturday, December 31, 2011

The "Israel Early Music Project" at the Jerusalem Music Centre

“The Israeli Early Music Project” was established in 2006 by a group of early music students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, with the idea of promoting historical performance of music composed before 1850. The artists play on period instruments and perform to many different kinds of audiences in Israel and abroad, also presenting educational programs for children of disadvantaged backgrounds. The ensemble has twice won prizes in the JAMD’s Chamber Music Competition and performs in major venues and festivals in Israel, Germany, the UK and Belgium. Although some of its members are currently studying in Europe, the artists meet to rehearse and perform a few times a year. Mandolin-player, lutenist and conductor Alon Sariel(currently in Germany) is the group’s musical director.

The IEMP artists were guests of the Jerusalem Music Centre in the second concert of the 23rd season of “Youth at the Centre”, which took place December 27th 2011; the series is recorded for the “Voice of Music” classical music radio station (Israeli Broadcasting Authority). The IEMP program included European music from the Middle Ages to that of the Baroque, opening with Shir Shemesh (medieval fiddle), Nadav Rogel (percussion) and Alon Sariel playing a lively Saltarello from a manuscript in the British Museum (Additional 29987) of secular Italian pieces from the 14th century. The saltarello’s distinctive hopping step made its presence in the performance, Rogel’s use of percussion delicate and understated. Using the same instrumentation (Shir Shemesh also moving from fiddle to recorder) we heard a bass dance from the Codex Faenza (in a library in the small town of Faenza, near Ravenna, Italy) a collection including much French and Italian instrumental music and instructions on diminution; copied between 1400 and 1420, it is written in the Italian six-line notation. The artists infused the rich flow of dance music with plenty of dynamic development.

An interesting work we heard was by Johannes Cuvelier (fl.1372-1387) a refined cosmopolitan man, successful poet, composer and statesman. His surviving musical works are found in a manuscript called the Chantilly Codex. Soprano Anat Edri (currently studying in Leipzig, Germany) sang a text typical of writings in literature of the Middle Ages - about a man in love with a woman of a higher social class than he. A work, written in the intricate, rhythmically complicated “ars subtilior” (mannered) style, in which each role functions independently, Edri, Sariel and Shemesh dealt admirably with the challenges of this complex style.

And to the world of Baroque music, to the “Ciaccona” for violin and continuo by Italian composer Thomaso Vitali (some scholars doubt it was written by him) made famous in a 19th century edition by German violinist Ferdinand David. It was performed by Sivan Maayani Zelikoff (violin), the basso continuo being played by Sariel on archlute and Talia Erdal (viola da gamba). Whether by Vitali or not, the piece keeps the audience on its toes with some strange tonal twists for Baroque music, suddenly modulating to unrelated keys. Maayani Zelikoff flexed lines delicately, weaving interesting embellishments into the text, reminding us all the way that music is there to please the senses. Sariel’s ornamenting of the ostinato (recurring bass) added to the work’s expressiveness.

“La Monica” was a popular tune in Italy, France, the Low Countries, Germany and England from the 16th- to 18th century; it was originally a song from Italy, “Madre non mi far monaca”, and tells the story of a girl forced to become a nun (a theme common in literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance). Biagio Marini (c.1597-1665), a violinist under Monteverdi at St. Mark’s Venice, court musician in Parma and church choirmaster in Milan, used the melody in his sophisticated “Sonata sopra la Monica” (1626), written for two violins and basso continuo; it was given a virtuosic and dynamic reading by Maayani Zelikoff and Shir Shemesh (recorder) playing the violin parts, with Sariel and Erdal providing the basso continuo. Using the same theme, court composer, bassoonist, organist and voice teacher from Alsace, Philipp Friedrich Bödecker (1607-1683) composed his “Sonata sopra La Monica” for bassoon in the form of a passacaglia. Erdal, with Sariel on archlute, chose to play the bassoon part on the modern ‘cello. Both artists addressed melodic- and expressive detail and each other; Erdal’s use of textures, fine technique and range of emotions giving the work freshness and interest.

Violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini’s (1692-1770) nomadic life and highly original works are clouded in myth and obscurity. Most of his works remain in manuscript, unpublished. The story surrounding “Il trillo del Diavolo” (The Devil’s Trill), a sonata in G minor, is no less enigmatic: in a dream one night in 1713, the composer makes a pact with the devil (who also happens to be a violinist virtuoso). Maayani Zelikoff, with Sariel and Erdal, was convincing in her feisty, richly colored playing of this unique and interesting work

Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) was a tenor singer employed by the Medici family and was renowned for singing and accompanying himself on the archlute. Edri performed two songs from his “Le nuove musiche” (1601, 1614). Her clean, direct and uncluttered singing of “Amarilli, mia bella” (a song too often made dramatic and too often over-embellished) reflected the persuasive and reassuring character of the piece and tied in with the composer’s clear purpose of creating a kind of musical expression that was as clear as speech. In “Sfogava con le Stelle”, to a sonnet of Rinunccini, one could not but appreciate Edri’s finely crafted phrasing and natural competence in melismatic passages:
‘Under the night sky,
With the stars an inferno of love,
He vented his grief, saying to them:
“O lovely images of my adored one,
Just as you reveal to me her rare beauty by shining so brightly,
Show her my burning love…’

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677), outspoken, witty and beautiful, an outstanding singer and composer of secular works, referred to by composer Nicolo Fontei as “La Virtuosissimo Cantatrice” (the most virtuosic singer), was also the subject of gossip and satirical poems due to her public performances and involvement and active participation in musical life of Venice, these not yet the domain of women. With cantatas becoming popular in the mid-1600s, Strozzi both developed and popularized the genre; her cantatas were intended as chamber music to be performed at small gatherings. Her cantata “Lagrime mei” (Tears of Mine) is a typical example of the solo cantata; the text represents a man speaking – a tormented poet sings of his lost love - despite the fact that the work is written for soprano voice (possibly to be sung by a castrato). Opening with a vehemently dramatic lament, the poet’s pain depicted in daring dissonances, Anat Edri handles the challenging piece with understanding and good taste, giving credit to Strozzi’s personal form of expression, Erdal and Sariel’s playing underlining the melancholy of the work.

Following a Ciaccona by Tarquinio Merula (c.1594-1665), in which we heard all instrumentalists improvising on the ostinato bass form with an abundance of creative ideas, rhythmic play and musical conversations, the concert concluded with a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Quel sguardo sdegnosetto” (That scornful little glance) one of the three “Scherzi musicali” of 1632. The song deals with the joys and dangers of physical love. In this piece, typically Baroque in its focus on virtuosity and emotion, Edri displayed vocal control and flexibility, weaving the vocal line above a solid bass line peppered with some free ideas on the part of the instrumentalists, creating the effect of spontaneity.

Performances of The Israel Early Music Project are based on interesting programming, sound knowledge of early music styles and of historic performance practice. Alon Sariel and his fellow musicians never fail to please audiences with high quality playing.

1 comment:

Shirley B. said...

A great recap of the concert! Thank you for the tidbits on the composers and of the music performed. The translations of the lyrics you selected were haunting. Makes me want to read more. I will get busy Googling.