Thursday, May 16, 2013

Barrocade and friends open the May 2013 Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

Under the musical direction of Chana Zur, the 43rd Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival opened on May 14th 2013 with a concert in the Kiryat Yearim Church involving the Barrocade Ensemble, Barrocade Vocale and other Israeli artists. The probability of inclement weather for the start of the festival did not deter people from attending festival events and spending time out in the tranquil surroundings of the Judean Hills. The opening concert, titled “Dvořák, de Falla and the Sweeping Spanish Renaissance”, included music from the 15th century to today, opened with Juan del Encina’s (1468-1529) villancico “Fata la parte” (Close the Door) was performed by four members of Barrocade Vocale - soprano Yeela Avital, alto Ella Wilhelm, tenor Eliav Lavi and bass Joel Sivan – with Barrocade musical director Amit Tiefenbrunn playing viola da gamba, Eyal Lever guitar, Yizhar Karshon organ and Roni Iwryn percussion. The text – a parody of gossip of a medieval town market - alternated between slow, languishing sections and frenetic moments, with one verse played by the instrumentalists in true Barrocade style. In the dignified, melancholy “Triste España”, with its haunting drum beat, Tiefenbrunn’s viol solo was gregariously ornamented, with a mellow alto solo sung by Wilhelm. In uniting popular and artistic elements, Juan del Encina had established a new style of Spanish secular drama.  Possibly of Jewish converse descent, he travelled to Jerusalem in 1519, later publishing a detailed description of his pilgrimage. The anonymous, carefree 16th century “Pase el agoa” (Come Across the Water to Me, My Lady) provided Barrocade Vocale singers  (bass Joel Sivan, in particular) with some jaunty solos, with Iwryn pulling out all the plugs. This was followed by an effective rendition of the strophic 16th century Christmas carol “Yo me soy la morenica” (I Am the Dark Little Girl), with Wilhelm and Tiefenbrunn soloing.

Of Antonio de Cabezón’s (1510-1566) Tientos (a polyphonic instrumental form originating in the Iberian Peninsula) 29 have survived. Yizhar Karshon’s performance of one was the result of strategic planning; he navigated the work’s heavy polyphonic texture and melodic aspects caringly, ornamenting lavishly.

Moving into the Baroque, we heard the great Baroque guitar master Gaspar Sanz’ signature work “Canarios” played by Eyal Lever on guitar and Amit Tiefenbrunn on a colascione (an Italian, long-necked, low-pitched lute of the 16th and 17th centuries) built by Tiefenbrunn himself. The piece depicts a syncopated dance of the Canary Islands. The artists’ vital playing of the work, both in plucked- and strummed style, expressed the dance’s energy with its leaps and stomping of feet, the colascione’s sound solid, flexible and well anchored. In his 1553 treatise, Diego Ortiz (1510-1570) describes three ways for instruments to play together: free invention, variations over an ostinato bass and embellished versions of well-known madrigals. In his performance of “Three Ricercadas for viola da gamba”, Tiefenbrunn clothed melodies in complex and delightfully agile ornamentation, with Lever, Iwryn and Karshon (harpsichord) providing harmonic- and rhythmic support.

Soprano Yeela Avital and Eyal Lever, with some percussion, performed two songs of José Marin (1618-1699), a composer writing in the monadic “tono humano” form using basso continuo - the dominant Spanish and Portuguese secular genre of 17th century Spain. A guitarist, prolific composer and ordained priest, Marin, who worked in the cultural environment of the Habsburg court, juggled a life of music, religion and crime quite skillfully and to his own good. He is one of the few composers to have left works in guitar tablature. “Ojos, pues me desdeñais” (Eyes who do disdain), performed by Yeela Avital and Lever, is an erotically charged text speaking in dance rhythms of the pain of unrequited love, of lust and jealousy; in “Non piense Menguilla” (Do not think of her any more), Avital addresses the audience with a few home truths on love’s desertions and disappointments. Lever follows her and the text closely and sensitively; Avital is well suited to this style, addressing its fragrance and heady rollercoaster of emotions and taking the audience with her.

A very different item on the program was Pablo Casals’ (1876-1973) “Nigra sum”, a calm, meditative piece performed to a text from the “Song of Songs”. A popular work, often performed by women’s choirs, its delicately, exotic layers of meaning came across pleasingly with Avital and Wilhelm keeping the treble lines afloat:
‘I am black,
I am black, but comely,
Oh ye daughters of Jerusalem…
Rise up, my fair one, arise, my love.
Lo, for the winter is past and gone…
Flowers appear on the earth…
And the time of renewal is come…’

Moving into the 19th century, we heard mezzo-soprano Ayelet Amotz-Abramson and pianist Jonathan Zak performing Antonin Dvořák’s “Gypsy Melodies” op. 55.  Written at the request of the opera tenor Gustav Walter and published in 1880, the songs are settings of poems by the Czech poet Adolf Heyduk (translated into German by the poet himself) that create a romanticized view of the freedom and spontaneity of gypsy life and their love of music and dance. Amotz-Abramson and Zak presented the song cycle’s melodic charm and rhythmic grace in a performance that was clear and well balanced, expressive and bristling with good humor. Amotz-Abramson is convincing; her strong, resonant, reedy voice has presence and reliability. She and Zak create the scene for each vignette – the tranquility of “All Around  About the Woods”, the carefree atmosphere of “Come and Join the Dance”, the Slavic, modal image of “The Gypsy Song Man” and the tough attitude of the gypsy in their superbly crafted reading of “Give a Hawk a Fine Cage”.
‘Given a cage to live in
Made of gold,
The gypsy would exchange it
For the freedom of a nest of thorns…’
The artists steer clear of sentimentality, reminding us that this music makes no attempt to imitate specific aspects of gypsy folklore. Professor Jonathan Zak (remembered by many of us as pianist of the prestigious Yuval Trio) is a master accompanist, his lightness of touch creating magical, glittery textures, his shaping and finely chiseled phrase endings delighting the senses. Returning to the realm of Spanish music, the two artists performed Manuel de Falla’s (1876-1946) “Seven Spanish Folksongs” (1914), a cycle using pre-existing Spanish melodies and reflecting the composer’s nostalgia for the folk music of his homeland at the time he was living in Paris. Collaborating closely, Amotz-Abramson and Zak conjure up the Spanish nature of the work – its rhythms and temperament, its emotion and fragility – holding onto its tension right to the end. Zak’s playing of guitar figurations, its melodic course full of flattened intervals and Flamenco-style embellishments. sets the scene for the compelling vehemence of Amotz-Abramson’s performance of “Polo”; together they weave the sultry, mysterious strands of “Asturiana” and the bewitching and alluring “Nana” lullaby.

Eyal Lever (b.1972) gave a virtuosic performance of his composition “Solea” for flamenco guitar – a work fired- and informed with the spirit of Spanish dance, filigree melodies and dazzling technical playing. He was eventually joined by Roni Iwryn, whose masterful, understated percussion playing had permeated the entire concert. The event concluded with the Barrocade singers and instrumentalists’ performance of Paul Ben Haim’s setting of the Judeo-Espagnol folk song “I Fell in Love with a Breeze”, its bittersweet flavor adding an extra dimension to a comprehensive and high quality concert of Spanish music. The opening concert of the May 2013 Abu Gosh Festival signed out with all singers and players performing Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez’ 1940 hit “Bésame Mucho” (Kiss Me a Lot), its lilting bolero rhythm inviting spontaneity.


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