Monday, December 23, 2013

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra performs a program of "War and Love"

The third concert of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2013-2014 concert series was “War and Love”. It was conducted by the orchestra’s founder and musical director Dr. David Shemer. This writer attended the concert at St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church Jerusalem on December 19th 2013.

The program consisted of works by two Italian contemporaries – Falconieri and Monteverdi. The evening opened with “Battalla de Barabasso yerno de Satanas” by composer and lutenist Andrea Falconieri (1585/6-1656). Born in Naples, he spent ten years in Parma, then, after much wandering, moving back to Naples in 1647 to take up the position of “musician of theorbo and archlute” and later of maestro di cappella at the royal chapel. His Neapolitan heritage places him at the nexus of Italian and Spanish musical culture. The two Falconieri pieces on the program come from his instrumental collection of 1650, the only such collection published in southern Italy at the time. Music describing battles forms a minor but distinctive category of music from the 16th- to the early 19th centuries. This music was characterized by extroverted and dramatic expression. Falconieri’s music draws its color from Iberian-Neapolitan culture, with its richness and variety of instrumental timbres. Linking religious allegory to programmatic battle music, “The Battle of Barabbas, Son-in-Law of Satan” imitates trumpets, fifes, drums, canons and guns, ending with a victory march stemming from the melody and ground “La Girometta”, a popular dance. Here, violins feature largely (Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid), with guitar (Alon Sariel) adding the Falconieri signature element to this joyful, colorful piece. In variations over an elaborated bass accompaniment, the JBO players presented Falconieri’s “Passacalle” with delightful play of the violins, delicate shaping and cohesive instrumental balance. Shemer’s reading of these pieces was stylish and variously colored, offering the concert-going audience a chance to hear and discover the excitement of these seldom-heard works.

“Il Ballo delle Ingrate” is one of the more substantial works of Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals – “Madrigals of Love and War” – concluding the section of pieces pertaining to love. In his secular duties to the Gonzaga family of Mantua, a family known for its lavish festivities, Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) “Il Ballo delle Ingrate” (The Ball of the Ungrateful Ladies) was an unexpected and exotic item of the festivities surrounding the wedding of Francesco Gonzaga to Margherita of Savoy in 1608. The libretto probably owes its existence to theatrical performances Ottavio Rinuccini attended at the court of Henry IV of France. A central feature of this work was a ballet danced by eight men and eight women, those including the prince and his father, Duke Vincenzo. The framework for the dance was provided by a dramatic plot sung in the recently evolved stile recitativo. The setting is the mouth of hell; here, Venere directly addresses the ladies of the audience. The ensuing action shows the fate of those ladies who reject men’s romantic overtures. At the entreaties of Amore and Venere (Venus), eight ingratiates are permitted by Plutone to appear at the opening of the underworld as a dreadful warning to other women who may choose to deny love. As Venere, mezzo-soprano Avital Dery’s performance was gripping, articulate and dramatic. Dery’s voice is warm and substantial, her vocal ease seeing her through melismatic passages with panache. She and mezzo-soprano Shachar Lavi blended sympathetically in duo. Young Shachar Lavi’s voice is agile and rich in timbre; she was convincing in her role of Amore. Keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, bass Yair Polishook played an imposing Plutone, his large, marvellously resonant voice and musicality coupled with a fine sense of theatre. The fact that he paced the stage now and then added to the importance of the authoritative Plutone, his sidelong glances in the direction of the “offenders” giving strength to- and hinting at the underlying court scandal behind the writing of work itself. Soprano Adaya Peled dealt well with her role as one of the ungrateful women, reminding the listener that Monteverdi’s melodic tools of despair do not stop short of dissonant leaps. With Peled, Lavi, Dery and Doron Florentin’s lush, a cappella rendering of the passionate farewell, the work concluded and the ladies were sent back to the underworld to mourn their fate indefinitely. The instrumental ensemble – harpsichord and strings, with Alon Sariel now on theorbo, reflected the pathos of the drama, also giving eloquence to short dance movements.

The dramatic scene “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” belongs to the section pertaining to war in Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals. The text is taken from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem of 1581, “Gerusalemme liberate”. The setting is the wall of Jerusalem. Tancredi, a Christian knight, has fallen in love with Clorinda, a Muslim maiden. Later, when he comes across a warrior in battle, he is not aware that it is Clorinda under the armor and wounds her mortally. When he finally recognizes her, she asks him to baptize her before she dies. In this operatic “scena”, Monteverdi gives Tancredi (Yair Polishook) and Clorinda (Adaya Peled) brief parts to sing. Polishook’s use of different vocal colors made for timbral interest. Peled was feminine and appealing, her performance poignant. The major role by far, however, is that of Testo, the narrator. The role is complex, with Testo both the objective observer and a witness to the horrific scene itself. In this emotionally turbulent role, tenor Doron Florentin displayed involvement, good stage presence and competence. His large, richly colored, resonant and stable tenor voice and dramatic flair are ideal for such a pressing role; he spiced it with much emotion, dynamic variety and subtle ornamentation. With Monteverdi’s concitato style use of tremolo and pizzicato, repeated notes and agitated leaps, there was much instrumental evocation of the combat of war. At one stage, Florentin joined in the affect with skilful, rapid verbal patter (à la Gilbert and Sullivan). Altogether, this major solo role was handled superbly by the artist…certainly a feather in Doron Florentin’s cap!

This was a concert of delights and finely balanced programming. The small instrumental ensemble played with delicate shaping and much attention to style and detail.

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