Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Barrocade Ensemble performs an all-J.S.Bach concert at Abu Gosh

“Happy Birthday, Bach!” was a celebration worth attending, even if the birthday celebrity was unable to be present. Conductor and violinist Andres Mustonen (Estonia) led the proceedings with soloists Kati Debretzeni-violin (UK/Israel), Shai Kribus-oboe/recorder, Geneviève Blanchard-flute, Ofer Frenkel-oboe, Ye’ela Avital-soprano, Ella Wilhelm-alto, Doron Florentin Dallal-tenor and Guy Pelc-bass. Barrocade – Israeli Baroque Collective – was joined by Barrocade Vocale. This writer attended the performance at the Kyriat Ye’arim Church, Abu Gosh, April 4th 2014.

The first half of the program consisted of three concertos of the Italian model – each having three movements (fast-slow-fast). It opened with J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Concerto for Oboe and Violin in c minor BWV 1060R, Bach’s own adaptation of a concerto for two harpsichords. Performing the solo parts we heard Andres Mustonen and Shai Kribus, with Mustonen using the violin part’s arpeggiated figurations, rhythmic flexing and ornaments to lend affect and excitement. Kribus’ wholesomely stable and expressive playing was indeed pleasurable. Following the slow movement, with the two artists trading pieces of the same long-lined melody to create a mood piece of lyrical tenderness, the final Allegro took off at a fast, frolicsome pace, Mustonen’s substantially accented and zingy devil-may-care reading of it making for a lively Saturday morning’s entertainment.

For Bach’s Concerto for Violin in E major BWV 1042, Mustonen took the seat of first violinist, with Kati Debretzeni now soloist. Her leading the instrumentalists consisted more of the language of eye contact and facial expressions than of large gestures, her tempi and intentions ever clear and secure as she lay emphasis on the expressive and the personal, on small details and much suave playing. Presenting the text made of the purest Bachian splendor, the well contrasted opening movement gave way to serene, spontaneous expressiveness in the Adagio, the Allegro Assai’s exuberance and virtuosity allowing for well balanced give- and- take of soloist and orchestra, reminding us that Bach was a German Lutheran, careful about the excesses of secular music.

The manuscript parts used in performance of the Concerto for Two Violins in d minor BWV 1043 date from around 1730 to 1731. With no documentary evidence to suggest that the work was composed any earlier, this makes sense stylistically as the work exemplifies the Bachian concerto at its most sophisticated and progressive. With Mustonen and Debretzeni as soloists, I was interested to hear on what wavelength two such different artistic personalities would meet in a work not only of solos, where imitation is taken to an extreme, but where Bach’s texture presents “one voice in two parts”. The result was rewarding, the density of polyphonic structures of the outer movements intense and interesting, with solo- and orchestral forces in ever-changing combinations. There was no need for either to give up on his/her signature style. In the poignant slow movement, the orchestral backdrop pared down, the soloists engaged in sensitive and bewitching dialogue.

Probably more transformed than most other Bach works, the “Easter Oratorio”, basically a large-scale Sunday cantata of 11 movements, began as a Baroque pastoral fantasy composed in 1725 for Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels’ birthday. The composer later transformed it into “Kommt, gehet und eilet” (Come, go ye and hasten), a cantata for Easter Sunday, setting a new text to existing arias and adding new recitatives. In 1726 Bach once more reworked the original secular cantata to commemorate the birthday of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming, governor of Leipzig and a patron of the composer. In the mid-1730s, he expanded the Easter Cantata to an oratorio, then revising it a decade later, rearranging the third movement for 4-part choir.

Bach’s celebration of Easter is mostly a joyous one. From the lively and richly orchestrated opening jubilant opening Sinfonia, the Barrocade instrumentalists gave an evocative, energetic and rich “description” of the visual scene, with the wistful sounds of fine woodwind playing and “sigh” motifs descriptive of the sorrow of Easter morning in the ensuing Adagio. In choral sections, the eight Barrocade Vocale singers (musical direction: Yizhar Karshon) presented their sophisticated vocal lines bristling in unique individuality, inviting the audience to indulge in active listening. Singing the role of Mary Magdalene, alto Ella Wilhelm’s performance proved substantial, reedy and most pleasing, her forthright and dramatic aria “Tell me, tell me quickly” joined by oboist Ofer Frenkel in fine collaboration. In Mary Jacobi’s aria, Geneviève Blanchard gave an outstandingly beautiful and expressive reading of the obbligato part, its “circling” melody describing the laurel wreath and infinity, partnering in Ye’ela Avital’s agreeable and confident performance of the soul-searching soprano aria:
‘O soul, your spices need no longer be myrrh.
For only crowning with the laurel wreath will quiet your anxious longing.’

The focal point of this oratorio is the bourrée-lullaby in which Peter sings Death to sleep. To a pulsating bass line and bewitchingly continuous rippling of flutes/recorders, tenor Doron Florentin Dallal sculpted the text using shapes of words to do so, his gilded, distinctive voice filling the church with a timbre that speaks of color and vigor. John’s recitative was handled imposingly by bass Guy Pelc.

Throughout the concert, the Barrocade players (musical director - Amit Tiefenbrunn) indulged in well detailed and subtle orchestral playing.

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