Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini (Italy) in a recital at the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar

One of the major events of the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar (director Drora Bruck) was a harpsichord recital by Rinaldo Alessandrini (Italy), one of the course tutors. The concert took place at the Lin and Ted Arison Israel Conservatory of Music on October 11 2014. Rinaldo Alessandrini (b. 1960), a renowned recitalist on harpsichord, fortepiano and organ, is considered one of today’s most authoritative interpreters of Monteverdi. Founder, continuo player/leader of “Concerto Italiano”, a leading vocal and instrumental ensemble of Italian Baroque performance, Alessandrini aims to bring out the expressive and cantabile elements inherent in Italian music “often elusive, expressive and cantabile elements” of 17th century Italian music, “the most fertile and innovative” of all periods, in his words. He conducts Italian Baroque opera, those including Händel’s Italian operas, reviving lesser-known operas of such composers as Cavalli and Vinci. Alessandrini’s award-winning CDs include “One Hundred Fifty Years of Italian Music” (harpsichord, organ) and, with “Concerto Italiano”, all of Monteverdi’s eight books of Madrigals.

Playing on an A. Dulcken two-manual harpsichord built by Klop (Holland), Alessandrini opened with the Ciaccona from the enigmatic composer Bernado Storace’s (c.1637-c.1707) only existing collection of pieces “Selva di varie compositione” (Venice, 1664). Virtuosic and dramatic, the artist lavished passion and intensity on the piece, surprising the listener with the occasional unexpected fleeting moment of different color and showing Storace’s varied agenda for what an ostinato bass can suggest. In strong contrast, we heard the artist in a poised, thoughtful reading of (Frescobaldi’s pupil) German composer J.J.Frohberger’s (1616-1667) “Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della…Fernando IV…”, as he took time to spell out the rich, varying, meditative fabric of the melancholic rhetoric in this heart-rending lament written on the sudden death of the Emperor’s 19-year-old son and embellishing it with opulent spreads.

Back in Italy, we heard dance music by Venetian harpsichordist, lutenist and organist Giovanni Picchi (1572-1643), also known as an established composer and performer of dance music. Although categorized as “low art” dances, his collection of idealized dances of 1621 actually represents the high point of Venetian keyboard dances of the time. Alessandrini’s vivid and majestic performance of them presented their sophisticated writing, interesting figuration and colorful, refreshing harmonies in the varied (also geographically) dance tunes set with mostly chordal accompaniments. Presenting each in different tempi and with some pleasing ornamentation, the artist never lost sight of the character of each dance and its origins. The first half of the concert ended with Alessandrini’s splendid and bold performance of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s (1583-1643) last work “Cento partite sopra passacaglia”, a somewhat approximate title for a continuum of passacaglias, chaconnes and one corrente. In a tireless stream of small pieces, the artist, with the determination and deftness of a quick-change artist, took the listener through the many keys, modes, metres and tempi of this giant dance suite, the more leisurely pieces dictating more freedom.

The second half of the program focused on works by J.S.Bach (1685-1750). Bach’s Concerto on D major BWV 972 is one of the several works of German and Italian composers the composer transcribed for harpsichord (and organ). Bach did more than adapting them for keyboard - he sometimes transposed them to different keys, added ornamentation, changing tempo markings and harmonies. He also stamped them with his personal style. The BWV 972 is modeled on Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins and continuo Op.3 no.9. Alessandrini took on board Bach’s virtuosic writing and predilection for the extraverted Italian concerto style, infusing the work with positive energy “nach italienischen Gusto”, his playing of the middle movement’s “Affekt” graced with Vivaldi’s original written-out embellishments touching and cantabile. Still in the Italian mind-set, we heard Bach’s early “Aria alla maniera italiana” BWV 989 (c.1709), a simple chorale-type (original) theme followed by ten virtuosic variations. Opening with a pleasing arioso touch, Alessandrini’s playing of the expressive theme and its flamboyant developments was contrasted, intense and rewarding. The program ended with another early Bach keyboard work (Bach was 19) – “Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilitissimo” BWV 992 - one theory being that the work was performed when Bach’s brother Johann Jacob left to become oboist in the army of Charles XII of Sweden. Alessandrini guided the listener through the tenderness, joy and melancholy, the key shifts, chromatics and complex fugues of the composer’s only programmatic instrumental piece.

Rinaldo Alessandrini’s interesting program presented a number of works not generally heard on the Israeli concert stage. Very much at home with virtuosic harpsichord repertoire, he is an artist for whom variety, articulacy and vibrancy come together in performance that is gregarious and focused. For his encore, the artist played a short, somewhat enigmatic original piece, allowing his playing to pause on the more emotionally charged chords of its melancholic, bluesy sound spectrum, to end unfinished.

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