Friday, February 1, 2013

Boris Begelman and the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in "Il Favorito"

“Il Favorito”, the title of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s recent concert, performed in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on January 26th 2013, was the sobriquet given by Charles IV to Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto in e minor no.2 opus 11. The opus 11 violin concertos were the composer’s gift to the king, who happened to be only one of the several noble acquaintances of the inveterate name-dropping Vivaldi. This JBO concert was a program of violin concertos – the solo instruments numbering from one to four – and one viola concerto. Violinist Boris Begelman (b. 1983, Moscow) conducted and soloed, the other soloists being Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid and Katya Polin. For this program, the orchestra consisted of bowed instruments and theorbo (Eliav Lavi) with David Shemer - founder and director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra – at the harpsichord.

The evening’s program began with Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso in D major opus 6, no.4. Among his best-known works, the opus 6 concerti grossi, published after the composer’s death, include movements reworked from earlier pieces, some settings being from very early works.  It seems Concerto no.4 was originally conceived for the trumpet; it was, however, meticulously revised by the composer to form a convincing concerto grosso.  Members of the JBO's concertino section were Begelman, Dafna Ravid (violin) and Orit Messer-Jacobi (‘cello). From the first notes of the piece, Boris Begelman’s deep musicality and articulate musical intentions created a myriad of ideas and shapes as he guided and inspired his players with his breath, with a single hand gesture or a moment of eye contact. Corelli’s royal fare, with its chiaroscuro (light and shade) effect created by the ripieno- and concertino sections, was presented with natural- yet flexible playing, the effect of the D major concerto’s fiery ending always sure to raise at least one eyebrow!

Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) concertos formed the bulk of the program. Two were from the collection titled “L’Estro Armonico” (Harmonic Fantasy), originally published in 1711, a set of 12 concerti that did more than any other works to promote the ritornello form and, indeed, Vivaldi’s music in Europe.  Concerto no.6 of opus 3, RV 522 for two violins is one of the most popular of the collection. In sharp contrast between solo instruments and orchestra, Begelman and Ravid play singly or together, poignantly weaving melodic lines, echoing, teasing, challenging and supporting each other in joyous and harmonious or stormy moods that lead to a fierce conclusion, their playing of the latter never overstepping the bounds of good taste. For Vivaldi’s highly original – indeed, experimental - Concerto in b minor opus 3, no.10 RV 580 for four solo violinists, Begelman had soloists (Begelman, Schuss, Ravid, Polin) dispersed throughout the semi-circle of players, creating both fine blending as well as the effect of a moving spotlight for the many small but wonderfully unpredictable solos. In this work of extraordinary intensity, its vivacious outer movements are punctuated by the nevertheless passionate and powerful slow movement; the solo parts each seem to have their own rhythmic agenda. Despite the work’s non-stop energy of contrasting patterns and fast imitations, the JBO instrumentalists preserved its transparency of texture. ‘Cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi added expressiveness with her finely nuanced playing. It is little wonder that Vivaldi’s concertos took Europe by storm!

Performing the solo violin role in Vivaldi’s Concerto in e minor for violin “Il Favorito” opus 11, RV277 (1729), Begelman’s playing displayed the grandeur and drama of the lengthy, complex first movement, the melodic material, scoring and texture of the (ritornello) episodes dealing out constant variety. In the wistful Andante, scored for soloist with only the upper strings, Begelman showed the listener through the fragile, gossamer-fine course of the movement, his playing sensitive and strategic. The final Allegro calls for much brilliance; Begelman did not disappoint as he navigated the increasingly virtuosic episodes with confidence, his playing untainted by a sense of over-familiarity or tired routine. With lengthy- and technically demanding cadenzas in the outer movements, yet another testimony to Vivaldi’s own reputation as a great violin virtuoso is his Concerto in D major for violin “Il Grosso Mogul” (The Grand Mughal) RV 208.  The title refers to the great Mughal Empire of India. In the opening Allegro, Begelman, as soloist, supported by the JBO’s lively, rich and dynamic ensemble sound, presented Vivaldi’s gamut of technical devices and gregarious flights of astonishing violinistic fantasy. The second movement, for solo and continuo, intense and singing, paved the way to the final Allegro, its demands sitting comfortably with Begelman’s dexterity and energy. In his program notes, Maestro David Shemer referred to the work’s unusual title as “reflecting western civilization’s attraction to the magical-, exotic- and mysterious Orient”. But is  this feisty work not yet another example of how Europeans viewed people from remote lands as…a little wild?

A unique work heard at this concert was Georg Philipp Telemann’s (1681-1767) Concerto in G major for viola TWV 51:G9, possibly the earliest surviving viola concerto, composed c.1716-1721. It was first published in 1731, then remaining out of print for more than two centuries. At the JBO concert, the solo part was played by Russian-born Katya Polin, currently a student at the Schola Cantorum in Basel. Of the sonata da chiesa form, it opened with a Largo movement, Polin’s treatment of its richly cantabile melody indeed noble and direct, with much of the solo material placed in the lower register of the viola. In the second movement, a decidedly lively ritornello piece, somewhat galant in style, Polin communicated closely with her fellow players, the viola part often set against high violin passages. The Andante, presented with elegance and graced with some gentle flexing, with Polin’s richly endowed timbre now moving pleasingly between upper- and lower registers, was followed by her confident- and technically competent playing of the sprightly Presto movement. The relaxed, stately performance of this concerto, much enjoyed by the audience, was, indeed, another feather in young Katya Polin’s cap!

Telemann also composed four concertos for four violins without orchestra. This effective combination allows  the delicacy of chamber music to merge with the concerto form; in Telemann’s hands this scoring focuses on the challenges of a concerto of several treble instruments with emphasis on the interplay of voices and blending of musical ideas rather than on technical showmanship. We heard Concerto in D major for 4 solo violins TWV 40:202 played by Begelman, Schuss, Ravid and Polin. Following the brief Adagio, really just an introduction, the artists interacted playfully in the Allegro, then passing motifs from one to the other in the well coordinated Grave. The final movement was a celebration of music-making, with the violins sometimes playing in pairs with the melody leaping between them.

With Begelman both performing and conducting a work, he will often be seen momentarily with his back turned to the audience as he “addresses” a specific player. He also takes time to tune with each player; for him tuning is paramount. Boris Begelman’s outstanding artistry and musicianship make for fine performance and exciting listening. A truly delightful concert.

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