Thursday, October 4, 2012

Third Early Music Seminar, Tel Aviv

The Third Early Music Seminar, Tel Aviv, opened October 1st 2012 at the Israel Conservatory of Music. The 10-day workshop, attended by 120 students, is under the musical direction of Head of the Israel Conservatory Early Music Department, recorder player and teacher Drora Bruck and produced by Ya’ara Mittleman-Sharit. Tutors from overseas include Kenneth Weiss (USA)- harpsichord, vocal coaching, Kees Boeke (Holland)-recorders, Rainer Zipperling (Germany)-Baroque ‘cello, viola da gamba, Antonella Gianesse (Italy)-voice, Noam Krieger (Holland)-harpsichord, vocal coaching and Tamar Lalo (Spain)-recorder (younger students). Israelis teaching at the Seminar are Drora Bruck-recorders, Idit Shemer-Baroque transverse flute, Ayala Sicron-voice, Orit Messer Jacobi-Baroque ‘cello, Zohar Shefi-harpsichord, Sharon Rosner-viola da gamba and Myrna Herzog-viola da gamba. Alon Schab is musicologist in residence. This year, a number of overseas students are joining their Israeli counterparts for the duration of the course.

The Israel Conservatory of Music (Tel Aviv) was founded in 1943 and continues to be a centre of musical learning, preparing several of its students for professional musical careers. It has recently undergone extensive refurbishment, with the opening concert of the Early Music Seminar taking place in the impressively rebuilt auditorium. Artists participating in the concert were all members of the Seminar’s teaching team.

The program opened with Drora Bruck, Orit Messer Jacobi and Noam Krieger performing Nicolas Chédeville’s Sonata in g minor for alto recorder and basso continuo (1737.) Bruck took on board the work’s character and technical challenges; however, the artists seemed unfamiliar with the hall’s acoustic, with Messer Jacobi’s ‘cello drowning out the other two players in a performance that needed to breathe more easily. Noam Krieger then treated the audience to some pieces from Jacques Duphly’s “Les Grâces”. Duphly (1715-1789), a fine harpsichordist himself, boasting all the right connections with Paris nobility and musical circles, was one of the last French composers to be writing for the instrument. With the term “grace” representing a number of ideas during the French Baroque – the Greco-Roman representations of beauty, mirth and good cheer, a term for musical ornaments and, finally, values of good taste in social behavior – what is certain is that these pieces constitute a combination of all three in salon music played for the pleasure of Paris nobility. Specifically instrumental, somewhat modeled on the Italian sonata (D.Scarlatti) but retaining melodic- and ornamental traits of F.Couperin and Rameau, the pieces were presented by Krieger in all their intricacies and ornamentation, with a degree of rhythmic freedom, yet presenting the text articulately to his audience. Noam Krieger then accompanied Ayala Sicron in G.Frescobaldi’s “Aria di Passacaglia” (1630). An aria without an opera, this is a hugely virtuosic piece, its characteristically Italian changes of mood representing the changing emotional turmoil of love together with a measure of sarcasm and bitterness. Dealing well with its technical challenges, I felt Sicron could have added a spicier dose of Italian drama.

‘In this way you despise me?

Like this you make fun of me?

The time will come, Love,

That love will make of your heart

That which you make of mine…

Your blond locks, your purple cheek

Will leave now, faster than I will.

Prize them then, so that I will have the last laugh.’

The program included two ricercars by the northern Italian composer Domenico Gabrielli (1650s-1690), considered the first violoncello virtuoso. These short, rarely heard pieces, not ricercars in the earlier, polyphonic sense but light multi-sectional pieces of an improvisational nature, are based on dance rhythms. Gabrielli’s seven Ricercare for Violoncello Solo count among the earliest works for solo ‘cello. Somewhat in the style of etudes, they were probably written for the composer’s own use; they are technically demanding, including florid passages, also double-, triple- and quadruple chords. Written shortly after the introduction of wire-wound gut strings, these ricercare make much rapid use of the lower strings, a feat not possible on purely gut strings. Rainer Zipperling performed Ricercar no.1 in g minor. His artful, subtle and sober playing of it produced a coherent, sensitive melodic journey, his rhythmic flexibility pointing out the composer’s array of different musical ideas. In Orit Messer Jacobi’s performance of Ricercar no.7 in d minor, her generous, full-bodied sound took each gesture to its full dynamic- and emotional potential. Rainer Zipperling also performed the Sarabande from Bach’s Suite in E flat major for solo ‘cello.

Zohar Shefi and Sharon Rosner performed Marin Marais’ (1656-1728) “Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte Colombe”, the composer’s homage to his viol teacher. In a well formulated reading of the work, the artists evoked the work’s ponderous melancholy through its falling motifs, chromatics, sighing, lamenting figures and suspensions, Rosner’s tone highly expressive; he evoked the grieving of the composer for his master by short vibrato effects and vehement utterances, all supported by Shefi’s sympathetic and reflective continuo support. A poignant performance, indeed. Shefi and Rosner were then joined by flautist Idit Shemer in a performance of Jacques-Martin Hotteterre’s (1674-1763) Suite in D major in a performance engaging French Baroque elegance, serenity and courtly etiquette. Idit Shemer’s playing was pleasing in its relaxed timbre and rich in melodic shape.

Israeli-born recorder-player Tamar Lalo, currently residing in Spain, performed Jacques Paisible’s Sonata in d minor. Krieger and Rosner formed the continuo section. A musician with a forthright manner, Lalo’s playing was fresh, lively, idiomatic and varied, her use of ornaments heightening its expressiveness. Her confident and articulate playing was indicative of the fluent and nuanced sound, the finesse of agréments and piquancy of expression French musicians had brought to London musical life at that time.

Dutch-born recorder player Kees Boeke performed a “lay” by poet and musician Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377). In the 25 lays attributed to Machaut, most of which deal with courtly love, the standard format for this secular poetic/vocal form was one of 12 stanzas, their content spanning from Marian hymns, debate poems, laments, complaints, comforts and didactic poems directed at patrons. The “lay” or “lai” Boeke played – “Lay de L’Ymage” – written for male voice, would have been composed in the 1320s or 1330s. Boeke played it on a medieval tenor recorder (Luca de Paolis, Italy), his playing adapting a narrative, vocal approach, constantly interesting, even without the verbal text.

The concert ended with a performance of J.J.Quantz’ (1697-1773) Trio sonata in C major performed by Drora Bruck-recorder, Idit Shemer-traverso, with Zohar Shefi and Orit Messer Jacobi forming the continuo section. In what might have been included in an evening’s entertainment at the Prussian court of Frederick the Great, with Quantz and his patron possibly playing the flute and recorder parts, we heard a performance that was communicative, graceful, playful and expressive. With Quantz proving that recorder and flute are not , after all, strange bedfellows, the Seminar ensemble’s playing was a poignant reminder that Quantz was influenced by the warmth and vibrancy of the timbres of Italian singers popular in early 18th century Dresden.

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