Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jerusalem Baroque Soloists at the Mormon University, Jerusalem

Georg Philipp Telemann

As dusk was settling over the panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem on July 29th 2012, people were entering the auditorium of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies to attend a concert performed by a group calling itself the Jerusalem Baroque Soloists. Those taking part, all soloists and members of various ensembles, were Uri Dror-recorder, Yigal Kaminka-oboe, Alexander Fine-bassoon and David Shemer-harpsichord.

The program opened with G.P.Telemann’s (1681-1767) Trio Sonata in C minor from “Essercizii Musici” for recorder, oboe and basso continuo. The “Essercizii Musici” (c.1739), a collection of 24 pieces, constitutes one of the most accomplished chamber music anthologies of the high Baroque. The title is somewhat enigmatic: the trio sonata we heard was certainly no instrumental etude, rather an indication of the key role Telemann was playing in the evolution leading to the homogeneous string quartet. With much noble (and some virtuosic) communication between recorder and oboe, the continuo’s underpinning gently swayed, the Jerusalem Baroque Soloists brought out Telemann’s fine individual writing for each instrument, the artists presenting his ingeniousness and uncontrived manner in a kaleidoscope of sumptuous timbres.

German oboist, organist and composer Johann Ernst Galliard (1687-1749) played in the chamber ensemble of George, Prince of Denmark, moving to London in 1706 to become chapel-master of Somerset House. A familiar face in London high society, he participated in the founding of the Academy of Ancient Music. He wrote music to plays, masques, pantomimes and cantatas and is thought to be the author of an outspoken literary work criticizing English opera and other music. Sonata no.3 in F major for bassoon (or ‘cello) and basso continuo, performed by Fine and Shemer, clearly seems geared to the four-keyed late Baroque bassoon. A challenging and entertaining work, Fine, playing on a replica Baroque bassoon built 1999, took cues from Shemer’s reading of the thorough bass, displaying the instrument’s full range, its lush, singing quality, his gregarious, richly colored playing juggling the many whimsical leaps and musical conversations with the wink of an eye.

The ensemble performed Antonio Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in G minor RV103 for flute (recorder), oboe, bassoon and continuo, the work sometimes referred to as a chamber concerto. The opening Allegro ma cantabile is frequently performed at breakneck speed…not here, thankfully. In the opening, Vivaldi had redeployed the basic melody “Amor sprezzato” (Love spurned) of an indignant castrato aria from a failed opera, but here Uri Dror’s extended solo episodes were woven in with poetic melodiousness and technical competence, tempered by gentle dissonances, enabling him to engage in dainty ornamentation. The tender Largo, placed over the bassoon’s walking bass, saw sympathetic collaboration between upper instruments both alternating, then contrapuntally paired, offering Shemer the opportunity to infuse some ideas of his own into the contonuo harpsichord role. With oboe and flute reversing roles before resolving into harmonic sequences, all collaborated in the delightful lightness and virtuosity of the Allegro non molto, its slightly queasy descending figure an off-beat characteristic of the movement.

On a replica of a 1750 Flemish harpsichord, built by Klop in 1983, David Shemer played two Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, both from among Scarlatti’s really feisty miniature sonatas. Shemer kept his audience entertained, and, indeed, on their toes, in the K.124 Sonata in G major, its major-minor shifts as unpredictable as its chains of harmonies and the pauses separating them, Shemer’s virtuosity bantering with Scarlatti’s invitation to indulge in freedom and folly. Also in the key of G major, the K.125 Sonata is marked “Vivo”; this seems almost an understatement! Shemer’s performance of this piece underlined the experimental- and experiential aspects of Scarlatti’s oeuvre, its Spanish influence and his daring use of dissonances. Not to be soft-pedaled (excuse the pun) on the modern piano, Shemer reminds us that this is harpsichord music in the raw, written by a composer who, himself, was likened to “ten hundred devils” when at the keyboard.

Of the two musician cousins of the same name, Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, members of a Flemish dynasty of performers and composers from Ghent, the elder, a performer and composer, made his career in London, becoming known as John Loeillet of London. He played a leading role in the city’s musical life and introduced Corelli’s works to the English. The Jerusalem Baroque Soloists performed his Trio Sonata no.6 opus 2 in C minor, presenting the elegant music with a sparing choice of ornaments, gently leaning into its dissonances, its virtuosic moments on recorder and oboe indicative of the fact that John of London was a master on both instruments.

Rounding off the program, the ensemble performed Telemann’s Trio Sonata in G minor TWV 42:g9 (composed 1726-1730), its concise proportions, nevertheless, bearing witness to 18th century modernity and the fact that Telemann had a sense of what the public wanted to hear, staying abreast with the latest fashions in the world of music. In the form of an agile, social dialogue, the Jerusalem Baroque Soloists recreated Telemann’s own courtly style (with the hint of a folk dance), their playing unmannered, tasteful and handled with a light touch.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra performs Mozart

An all-Mozart concert drew a large audience to the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre July 26th 2012 for Concert no.6 of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA’s Vocal Series. Under the baton of Daniel Cohen, the JSO was joined by the Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir (musical director Leonti Wolf) and solo singers - sopranos Hila Baggio, Alla Vasilevitsky and Na’ama Goldman, tenor Nimrod Grinboim and baritone Noah Briger.W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Symphony no.25 in G minor K.183 is an early work, composed in 1773, the composer not yet 18 years of age. Sometimes referred to as Mozart’s “Little G minor Symphony”, the only other minor key symphony he would compose was written 15 years later - no.40, also in g minor. The K.183 symphony was a groundbreaking work for the composer, the first symphony sounding wholly Mozartean, with the composer now showing signs of moving away from the highly defined parameters of Haydn’s art and probing deeper and uncompromisingly into human emotions – three of its four movements begin with bare, open octaves. A work not heard frequently enough, the JSO’s performance of it was fresh, the urgency of its jagged, rhythmic, syncopated opening as effective as the empathic melodiousness of the following Andante movement, with its dialogue between violins and bassoon. The definite octave statement of the Minuet was contrasted by the trio for winds alone, the oboe part played with magical elegance by Yigal Kaminka. The score calls for four horns (these tricky instruments not always sounding quite together) their presence vital to the specific timbre of the final movement. Cohen’s reading of the work is unmannered; his energetic, incisive conducting language inspired the players in an articulate, pleasing performance.For the years Mozart lived in Salzburg, he was involved with music for the Catholic Church. His most frequent contributions to satisfying the continual demand for new, locally-composed church music were settings of the Mass Ordinary; he composed 15 complete Mass cycles in Salzburg. The Missa Brevis in D minor K.65 is one of Mozart’s early Salzburg compositions, a commissioned work composed for the Collegiate Church of Salzburg University. Composed in 1769, the 13-year-old was already using some innovative elements such as through-composed writing and the quoting of the same material in different movements. A terse Missa Brevis with very short ritornelli, the score calls for just two violins, bass and organ. In a work of such brevity, Mozart could not always manoevre the music to illustrate the words, especially in “superimposed” sections. Still, Cohen gave the homophonic movements a sense of speaking the words, with the chromatic Benedictus rich in timbres and harmonic tension. 1782-1783 saw the composition of Mozart’s Mass in C minor, K.427, The Great, in Vienna, an incomplete work in a Baroque cantata-like form clearly inspired by Bach and Händel’s large sacred choral works; the work stands apart from the rest of the composer’s church music and is one of his supreme masterpieces. The K.427 Mass was not commissioned; Mozart claimed he was writing it to celebrate his marriage to Constanze, a singer of great ability who is known to have soloed in the performance of it. A question arises as to how Mozart supplied the missing sections for liturgical use; modern performances, however, are usually restricted to performing only the sections written by Mozart. In 1901, German musician Aloïs Schmitt reconstructed Mozart’s incomplete orchestration of the “Et incarnates” and the second chorus of the “Hosanna”, with orchestration following the Salzburg norm – strings, two oboes, two bassoons, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and continuo. Creating the work’s atmosphere of imposing majesty from the very first notes of the orchestral opening, Daniel Cohen and his all-Israeli team of instrumentalists and singers produced a performance that was gripping throughout. Hila Baggio’s singing was focused and carefully paced. One of the evening’s highlights was the “Et incarnates”, in which her controlled excitement tempered by her calm presence and expressive melismas were joined by flute, oboe and bassoon in what could only be termed a virtuosic coloratura aria. Another artist of great promise in the concert- and opera scene is Alla Vasilevitsky: her singing of the “Laudamus te” abounded in richness of timbre and musical involvement. The “Quoniam tu” for soprano, mezzo-soprano and tenor provided an opportunity to enjoy Nimrod Greenboim’s reedy tenor voice and musicality. Baritone Noah Briger was heard only in the “Benedictus”, his mellow, strongly colored voice fetching. The choruses of the C minor Mass are outstanding in their display of compositional thinking and emotional impact, from the gripping, grave, freely contrapuntal “Kyrie” to the varied dynamics of the “Gratias agimus tibi” the latter’s 5-voiced harmony bristling with suspensions, to the work’s double choir centerpiece – the “Qui tollis”. Daniel Cohen spelled out the impelling character of the “Qui tollis” movement, its heavy, fateful “steps” set by the orchestra, the choir’s both powerful- and pianississimo singing providing emotion to the spiritual climax of the Mass. The work reached a satisfying conclusion with the rich double fugue of the “Osanna”. The Great Mass’s soloistic flute, oboe and bassoon parts (sometimes surprisingly divorced from the work’s sacred message, yet nevertheless gorgeous) were handled admirably by Noam Buchman, Yigal Kaminka and Alexander Fine.Born in Israel in 1984, Maestro Daniel Cohen today serves as chief conductor of the Jersey Chamber Orchestra and musical director of the Eden Sinfonia (London). In Israel, he functions both as artistic director of the Gropius Ensemble, a group specializing in the synthesis of music and theatre and as permanent guest conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. His articulate and intelligent direction of the JSO concert made for an inspiring evening of music.