Friday, April 28, 2017

The upcoming Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival offers varied concert fare

Kiryat Yearim Church (photo: Danny Herman)
The 51st Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival will take place from May 30th to June 3rd 2017.  Singer and conductor Hanna Tzur has been the festival’s musical director since 1995. Concerts are held in the spacious Church of the Ark of the Covenant gracing the Kiryat Yearim hilltop and in the intimate Crypt of the 12th century Benedictine Crusader Church nestling in a peaceful, exotic garden. People from all over Israel attend the festival, taking time out from the bustle of everyday life to immerse themselves in good music, enjoy the views over the Judean Hills, to picnic with friends, get a taste of the outdoor performances and browse the craft stalls.

A ground-breaking event of the 51st Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival is "A Brazilian Requiem for a Portuguese Queen", in which the Ensemble PHOENIX will play on authentic instruments of the Classical period, offering an orchestral sound quality rarely heard in Israel. This year’s Shavuot festival will host the Delaware University Choir from the USA (conductor: Paul D. Head); they will perform two concerts covering a wide repertoire: in “Bach, Africa and Spirituals” (Concert No.1) the singers will be joined by virtuoso percussionist Chen Zimbalista, their second performance (Concert No.5) engaging in “Celebrations, Sorrows, Jazz and Spirituals”.  In “Jazz and Classic Meet in Abu Gosh” (Concert No.7) the Yaron Gottfried Trio will collaborate with the Moran Vocal Quartet in music of Vivaldi, Purcell, Britten and numbers from the King’s Singers’ stylish arrangements.

For Baroque music aficionados, the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir (Conductor: Michael Shani) will be joined by Ensemble Barrocade and soloists in “Vivaldi – Magnificat, Gloria and Concerto” (Concert No.9). “I Love Bach the Most” (Concert No.6), will feature the Shahar Choir (conductor: Gilla Brill) and soloists in works of J.S.Bach and conclude with some popular Israeli pieces inspired by the great German Baroque master; also performing Bach together with lighter fare,  the Moran Vocal Octet will extol the virtues of a-cappella singing in “Bach and the Beatles with Vocal Octet” (Concert No.13).

In “He Pastures among the Lilies” (Concert No.15), Israeli opera singer Hadar Atari will offer concert-goers a glimpse into her two different musical worlds in a program including both Mozart and Yemenite Jewish songs. In a concert with a distinct French flavour, Ronen Borshevsky will conduct the Ihud Choir and soloists in “Gounod – Missa Solemnis for Santa Cecilia” (Concert No.4). With the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition taking place as I write this, the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival’s concert “Winner of the 15th Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition” (Concert No.3) will feature pianist Idit Zvi (director of the piano competition), soprano Keren Hadar and pianist Irit Rub, as well as the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir, conducted by Hanna Tzur herself.

An Abu Gosh Festival tradition, hearing singers of the Meitar Opera Studio (Young Artists Program of the Israeli Opera), with their musical director, arranger and pianist David Sebba, is always a delight; performed by Israel’s new generation of opera singers, “Hallelujah -  Leonard in America” (Concert No.10) will include music of both Leonard Bernstein and Leonard Cohen.

A number of concerts will cater to lovers of traditional- and folk music. Taking us into the world of Fado music, its longing and fate, is Hagit Noam’s presentation of “Amalia Rodrigues, Queen of Fado – From Portugal with Love” (Concert No.14). The Kibbutz Artzi Choir (conductor: Yuval Benozer) and the Raanana Symphonette will be joined by alto Silvia Kigel in “Theodorakis – Zorba the Greek” (Concert No.2). Soprano Revital Raviv will be accompanied three instrumentalists in repertoire memorable as performed by Greek songstress Nana Mouskouri in “A Tribute to Nana Mouskouri’s Songs” (Concert No.12). Soprano Daniela Skorka and guitarist Eyal Leber will team up to create “South American in Songs” (Concert No.11) and “Folk Songs from Spain, Russia, England and France” (Concert No.16) will be performed by the Alla Breve Quartet, with Eliav Lavi on guitar.

 Sofia Pedro (photo:Smiljka Boskov) 
As mentioned above, a  unique and festive event of the 51st Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival will be “A Brazilian Requiem for a Portuguese Queen” by José Maurício Nunes Garcia (Concert No.8). The production will be a collaboration between Ensemble PHOENIX (director: Myrna Herzog) and the Upper Galilee Choir (director: Ron Zarchi), solo singers and overseas guests: Brazilians - violinist Luis Otávio Santos and bassoonist Ricardo Rapoport (who will play an original Classical bassoon and the cavaquinho - a Brazilian folk instrument) and Portuguese soprano Sofia Pedro. Creating the specific and astoundingly distinct Classical orchestral timbre will be Classical clarinets, Classical flute, natural horns, early timpani and period stringed instruments played with Classical bows. Brazilian-born Dr. Myrna Herzog, who will be the conductor of the event, writes: “The year of 2017 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767-1830), the most important Brazilian colonial composer. His music was never performed in Israel, where he is unknown. PHOENIX takes the opportunity to reveal this excellent composer to the Israeli public, premiering his remarkable Requiem from 1816. Our program also includes the music of Portuguese composer Marcos Portugal, of Damião Barbosa de Araújo from Bahia, active in Rio during this period, and a popular dance, the Lundu.” 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Musica Nova presents the Israeli premiere of Morton Feldman's "Piano and String Quartet" at Hateiva (Jaffa)

Morton Feldman (photo: Jan Williams)
An auspicious event of the 2016-2017 Israeli concert season was the Israeli premiere of Morton Feldman’s “Piano and String Quartet”, performed by Musica Nova on April 19th 2017 at “Hateiva” in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv. Performing the work were Assaf Shatil (piano), violinists Yael Barolsky and Liora Altschuler, Amit Landau (viola) and Dan Weinstein (‘cello). Hateiva’s intimate basement hall, the home of contemporary music in Israel, was quick to fill to capacity with people from the world of music and other modern music aficionados curious to experience this work. 

With the strongest influence on his formative years in New York being the music and encouragement of John Cage, Morton Feldman (1926-1987) was one of a group of New York experimental composers that included Christian Wolff, John Cage and Earle Brown; he was also surrounded by literary figures and such painters as Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Philip Guston.  “Piano and String Quartet”, composed by Feldman in 1985 two years before his death, consists of one movement lasting some 80 minutes. Typical of the composer’s late chamber works, it is by no means the longest (the lengthiest being his Second String Quartet, which takes five hours to perform!) A work of unvaried tempo and of a dynamic range not venturing above a delicate piano sound, the pianist (as implied in the work’s title) mostly plays material of a separate agenda to that of the string quartet: a fragile arpeggio figure, whose content and direction undergo transformations, but which is never abandoned for long. The string players mostly answer the piano with short homophonic utterances wrought of high, pastel sounds, their otherworldly textures pigmented with the whispered bowing of harmonics. An acoustic effect, conspicuous at the Jaffa performance, was that of the piano’s sustaining pedal gathering and blending lingering string sonorities with its own. One could mention the work’s ‘cello solos of haunting, single pizzicato notes, the occasional hesitating piano solo, the rising or falling minor second (interval) motif that emerges and dominates, eventually extending to larger intervals, the string quartet’s subsequent ascending arpeggios and the work’s fragile wistful clusters. Feldman’s focus, however, is not on development - rather on the sonority of any given moment. In Morton Feldman, Essays, ed. W. Zimmermann (Cologne, 1985), the composer writes: "The most interesting aspect for me, composing exclusively with patterns, is that there is not one organizational procedure more advantageous than another, perhaps because no one pattern ever takes precedence over the others.” Towards the end of the work, I personally began to discover a sense of the tonic (anchor of a scale) weaving its way into the translucent soundscape, establishing itself my mind… Feldman, however, writes: “…there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion.” (Ibid). With each listener experiencing the work with Feldman’s parameters in mind but, nevertheless, through the prism of his own mind, this was a work to be heard and seen live.

Following two weeks of rehearsals, the five Musica Nova players (not a permanent ensemble) re-created the work’s timeless atmosphere with playing that was precise, strategically timed, superbly coordinated, controlled and focused, as they presented its fragments and filigree, lush, haunting and sensual sounds, inviting the listener to examine each timbre and combination as it arose out of a background of icy silence. Leaving aside the pressures of time dominating contemporary life (and us), they highlighted the priorities of Feldman’s late music. Their playing was dedicated, single-minded and constantly engaging. Pianist/composer Assaf Shatil spoke of the project as a “journey” for both players and audience. With the Musica Nova artists each choosing (and sometimes creating) their own event, this undertaking was Shatil’s personal choice, his wish to perform the work he referred to as having “no manipulations…only time”.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Batia Murvitz, Igal Levin and Laura Albers perform trios and duos at the Brigham Young University, Jerusalem

Laura Albers,Batia Murvitz,Igal Levin (photo:Nadav Horesh)

Two members of Ensemble Colláge Tel Aviv -  pianist Batia Murvitz and clarinettist Igal Levin – hosted violinist Laura Albers (USA) at a Sunday Evening Classics concert at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Brigham Young (Mormon) University, Mount of Olives, on April 9th 2017.

Opening the program of European music spanning the 18th to 20th centuries, the artists performed Darius Milhaud’s Suite for violin, clarinet and piano op.157b. The trio’s playing of the light, playful Ouverture set the scene with bold gestures, its hints of jazz- and Latin styles making for an altogether colourful and hearty performance. Following the Divertissement, in which violin and clarinet begin in imitative dialogue without the piano, with all three then engaging in the delicate dovetailing of its polyphonic strands, the third movement – Jeu (Game) – played by clarinet and violin, resorts to a hearty folk melody, with Albers’ easeful and convincing playing evoking the style of traditional fiddling and Levin’s agenda also suggesting strumming, folksy elements. The opening tutti of the final movement, with its unsmiling, substantial piano chords, whisks away any memory of the jocular Jeu, only to quickly give way to light-hearted music, peppered with Milhaud’s characteristic jazz-flavoured polytonal writing and small harmonic jests, to end with the wink of an eye. Composed in Paris in 1932, the work, showcasing the composer’s adept incorporating of instrumental colours, his theatrical blend of styles and ideas, was given a delightfully entertaining performance.

Then to the wistful mood of W.A.Mozart’s Sonata for piano and violin in E-minor K.304 (from his time in Paris, which ended with his mother’s death), its dramatic intensity signalling the 22-year-old composer’s emotional upheaval. From its piano-and-violin unison opening, Albers and Murvitz’ playing was incisive, intense at times, at others – tender, it was dynamic and well-shaped. Based on attentive listening, their rendering of the work constituted a feast of eloquent, melodic playing, textures, balance, articulacy and expressiveness. With Albers’ cantabile melodious sound and Murvitz’ discreet use of flexing and of the sustaining pedal, their playing was rewarding, the work’s soul-searching message delivered with subtlety.

In 1849, a year for Robert Schumann of many new works, also the publication of “Album for the Young” and of an increased income as a result, the composer wrote: “I have never been busier or happier with my work”. One of the chamber works seeing light that year was his Three Romances for oboe and piano op.94, which he presented to his wife Clara as a Christmas present. He also published versions of it for violin or clarinet (and it can be heard on the’ cello and horn). In fact, the Three Romances were first performed at the Schumann home with Joseph Joachim on violin with Clara at the piano. Introducing it at the Jerusalem concert, Levin spoke of the work as indicative of the “Romantic, international language”. He and Murvitz both initiated and intertwined Schumann’s sweeping melodic lines in the first expressly tranquil piece, in the second marked “Einfach, innig” (Simple, ardently), the middle section – urgent rather than stormy – was comfortably placed between the two honeyed outer sections. Moving together in the outer sections of the third, the central section saw the artists tossing ideas to each other in friendly banter, then allowing for small hesitations to lead them to the end of the work. A work focusing less on virtuosity than on profound expressiveness, playing its long, meandering phrases makes great demands on the wind player’s breath control. Igal Levin’s tone is supple and vibrant and his performance gave credit to the clarinet’s larger dynamic range than that of the oboe, although, by nature, the clarinet’s tone quality will always be less plaintive than that of the oboe. Murvitz’ playing was vigilant and sensitive.

Concluding the concert on a very “different note”, the trio played the Suite from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale”. The work, based on a Russian folk tale, a collaboration between Stravinsky and Swiss writer C.-F. Ramuz, was referred to by the composer as a work “to be read, played and danced”. Its original scoring calls for two dancers, three speaking parts and seven instruments. The Suite for piano, violin and clarinet was first performed in Lausanne in November 1919, long before the work in its original setting for seven instruments was performed publicly.  To put the audience at the Mormon University into the picture, Igal Levin recounted the story – of a deserting soldier possessing a magic violin, which he trades with the devil, who promises to grant him his every wish. One wish is winning the hand of the king’s daughter. Throughout the story, the devil proves to be a cunning and tricky protagonist. The artists’ playing of the Suite opened with “The Soldier’s March”, a parody on militarism, vivacious and feisty in its cynicism, followed by the typically Stravinsky repetitiveness of “The Soldier’s Violin”. Taut, seamless and unrelenting, “The Little Concert” was presented boldly in its vivid and defiant idiom, as it constantly shifted between atonal textures and modality, to be followed by the “Tango-Waltz-Ragtime”, with the artists displaying Stravinsky’s somewhat disturbing distortions of them. Altogether, their outstanding- and carefully detailed performance enquired into the dry, acerbic agenda of the work, whose text (and the musical motifs threaded throughout) concludes with a few tough home truths:

You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.

Giving their all to the triumphant, jeering and diabolical “Devil’s Dance”, Albers, Levin and Murvitz ended their recital, one of chamber music of the highest standard. 



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dror Semmel, Ron Trachtman and Michael Zartsekel perform Russian piano music at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

In the Eden-Tamir Music Center’s Piano Entertainment series, “A Russian Celebration” was performed by pianists Michael Zartsekel, Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman at the Ein Kerem venue on April 7th 2017.

Performing on three pianos, the artists opened with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Romance and Waltz in A-major, composed 1890/91 written to be played by the three Skalon sisters when the composer, in his late teens, was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory. It is thought that Natalia Skalon wrote the theme for the Waltz. Playing the pieces on one piano is entertaining to watch, but there was much to be said for playing them on three, with the artists presenting the works’ fine details, Romantic charm and fragility, creating true magic and with clarity.  Rachmaninoff’s love for Vera, the youngest of the sisters, might well have been the inspiration for the tenderness of the Romance.

Michael Zartsekel then performed two pieces from Tchaikovsky’s  “The Seasons” (1876), a set of 12 pieces relating to the 12 months of the year. The collection, published in instalments in the monthly musical-theatrical journal “Nuvellist”, would have been suited to the new Russian bourgeois lifestyle of the amateur home pianist, the works’ benchmark however being Tchaikovsky’s own solid pianistic ability. With each piece bearing a programmatic title, the pianist would draw inspiration from each of the various seasons in Russia; familiar to Zartsekel (b.1980, Rostov, Russia), this was a fine choice for him.  He opened with cantabile, personal and gently flexed playing of “June” (Barcarolle), its stormier central section only a temporary hiatus from its sweetly melancholic mood, then to continue with his pensive, moving reading of “October” (Autumn Song), its tristful melodiousness exquisitely shaped. Zartsekel also performed two of Rachmaninoff’s op.23 Preludes (1901-1903). His playing of the gently meandering Prelude in D-major op.23/4 offered the seamless weaving of gorgeous melodies with articulacy, his use of the sustaining pedal never blurring, as he guided the listener through the many keys of the essentially Romantic Rachmaninoff’s agenda.  The B-flat major prelude op.23/2, on the other hand, is all energy, representing Rachmaninoff the towering pianist. (His large hands were able to reach a twelfth on the keyboard.) Rich in lavish chords and runs, even the subdued middle section moves relentlessly forward, Zartsekel gave expression to its rich layering and joyousness.

The program also included Rachmaninoff’s two suites for two pianos. Of the two suites Dror Semmel writes that they "are among his best works and his writing for two pianos is absolutely remarkable. Truly amazing textures and sonorities. Not easy..." In No.1 (Fantasie-Tableaux) in G-minor for two pianos op.5 (1893), each tableau was inspired by a different poem. Ron Trachtman and Dror Semmel presented the scenes in a kaleidoscope of richly-coloured musical textures, not in a programmatic sense but certainly descriptive and alive with such effects as rippling water (Barcarolle), bird calls (The Night…the Love) and bells (Easter). The third movement – “Tears” -  never fails to amaze with its uniquely canonic play of teardrops, falling singly or cascading down.
‘Tears, human tears
You flow both early and late —
You flow unknown, you flow unseen
Inexhaustible, innumerable —
You flow like torrents of rain
In the depths of an autumn night.’ (Fyodor Tyutchev)

Trachtman and Semmel’s performance of “Easter” concluded the work with a vibrant, intense and festive canvas of large, powerful Russian Orthodox church bells, as “all the booming air rocks like the sea…” (Alexei Khomyakov).

Performed by Semmel and Zartsekel, we heard Suite No.2 in C-major for two pianos op.17, written by Rachmaninoff in 1901,  its forthright opening March was followed by the frolicsome Waltz, so interwoven in its two-piano texture that the two piano parts could hardly be distinguished by the ear…one was drawn to following it visually. Then to the Romance, lyrical and introspective, peppered with a more impassioned middle section. The concluding feisty Tarantella, with its driving rhythms contrasting with its refined passagework, was a true tour de force, demanding staggering virtuosity on the part of both artists.

The concert ended with all three pianists performing Michael Zartsekel’s arrangement of “The Great Gate of Kiev”, the dazzling conclusion to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Inspired by an architectural design for a gate in massive Russian style, the constructional project never saw the light of day. Scoring his arrangement for three pianos means that Zertsekel, using massive, muscular chords, large musical proportions and a good dose of sustaining pedal for Mussorgsky’s noble chordal melody and victorious tolling of bells, has his audience sitting at the edge of their seats as he evokes the grandness of the gate. For their encore, the artists performed Michael Zartsekel’s arrangement of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty”, bringing to an end a concert of outstanding performance.

Michael Zartsekel,Ron Trachtman,Dror Semmel (Shmuel Semmel)




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Magnificat in Two" - two branches of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir perform Magnificats of Vivaldi and Rutter

Courtesy the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir

“Magnificat in Two” was one of the events of the 2017 Jerusalem Festival of Arts (March 28th-April 4th). The concert, taking place on April 1st in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA, was a joint performance of two branches of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir – the Capellate Choir (conductor: Naama Nazrathy Gordon) and the Oratorio Chamber Choir (conductor: Kate Belshé). Soloists were soprano Shira Cohen and mezzo-soprano Noa Hope. Marina Shaevich accompanied on the piano. Belshé and Nazrathy Gordon alternated in conducting throughout the concert.

The event opened with both choirs proceeding into the hall to the singing of Hanacpachap (1630), an anonymous processional hymn from Cuzco (Peru) in the Quechua language and considered to be the first polyphonic work of the ‘New World’. It was accompanied by drum and ankle bells.

Antonio Vivaldi composed his “Magnificat” around 1715, with later versions penned in the 1720s. Enigmatically designated for two choirs, Vivaldi’s setting of the text is decidedly mono-choral. The Oratorio choirs opened with articulate and festive singing of the “Magnificat anima mea” (My soul glorifies the Lord), as they leaned into the music’s dissonances. In the “Et exultavit” (My spirit rejoices in God), Shira Cohen’s fresh, bright timbre was joined by the rich, smooth singing of mezzo-soprano Noa Hope. This was followed by a velvety- and well-delineated choral reading of the “Et Misericordia” (His mercy is from age to age), its anguished utterance a little understated, with the singers then engaged in the forthright gestures of the “Fecit Potentiam” (He puts forth his arm in strength) finely depicting the mighty as being destroyed and the humble exalted. Addressing details and well-rehearsed, the choir’s singing of Vivaldi’s “Magnificat” reflected the differing moods of the work.  Although Marina Shaevich’s accompaniment was attentive and sensitive, the performance was missing the timbres of the Baroque instrumental ensemble in obbligato passages and, in particular, the plangent timbre of the two oboes.

The Jerusalem event offered a fine opportunity for the audience to familiarize itself with the music of London-born John Rutter (b.1945), one of today’s most prominent and frequently performed composers of sacred vocal music. The work is very upbeat, with some sections popular in style and appeal and others meditative, reflective and exultant.  Rutter uses the traditional text, interpolating some other material. In the opening movement, a vivid mix of vocal colour and influenced by the attractive asymmetrical Latin American Huapango rhythm, the Oratorio singers’ performance was secure, bright and rich, their diction well-defined. In the second movement, Rutter’s more traditionally English, folk-like setting of “Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose”, a 15th century religious poem, the image of the rose, its blossom and branches serve as metaphors for Mary, Jesus and the message of Christmas. The singers presented its word-painting and transparency of texture with pleasing lightness.
Of a rose, a lovely rose
Of a rose is all my song.
Hearken to me both olde and younge,
How this rose began to spring;
A fairer rose to mine liking,
In all this world ne know I none…’
In the “Quia fecit mihi magna” (The Almighty works marvels for me), Rutter now interpolates a Sanctus and introduces the use of plainsong to the work. Then the atmosphere totally changes for the “Et misericordia” (His mercy is from age to age), with Shira Cohen’s expressive, fluid and soothing singing soaring above the choir’s smooth and constantly modulating agenda. With the “Fecit potentiam”, Rutter turns to a terse, intense style, a merging of fugal- and atonal elements, all well-crafted and crisply presented by the singers, then to be contrasted by the tranquil, sweetly sentimental “Esurientes” (He fills the starving with good things), with Cohen’s communicative reflective solo set above delicate choral sounds. Rutter’s final addition to the text occurs in the final movement, as Cohen performs the “Sancta Maria” to a minimal accompaniment, with the work spiralling to a volley of joyful Amens. Taking on a substantial and challenging role, Shira Cohen dealt it with natural musicality and poise. Rutter’s highly-coloured instrumental scorings are either for full orchestra or chamber orchestra. Many trumpet fanfares highlight the work’s festive spirit. Performing it with piano accompaniment is a poor substitute for what the composer had in mind; consider the percussion instruments in his score: timpani, glockenspiel, snare drum, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, tambourine and bongos!


Photo:Marina Vengerov

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Daniel Purcell's rediscovered "Judgement of Paris" performed by Ensemble Barrocade

Eitan Drori,Oded Reich,Revital Raviv,Hadas Faran Asia (photo:Tatyana Druz)
Barrocade’s most recent production was Daniel Purcell’s opera “The Judgement of Paris”. This writer attended the event on April 1st 2017 in the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim, some ten kilometers west of Jerusalem. Barrocade – the Israeli Baroque Collective -  was established in 2007; its musical director is Amit Tiefenbrunn, with Shlomit Sivan serving as its administrative director. For the opera, Yizhar Karshon conducted from the harpsichord. Oded Reich was stage director - his debut in stage direction. Costumes, stage design and assistant director - Gan De-Lange; lighting design - Yehiel Orgal; assistant producer - Liat Lidor. Vocal soloists Eitan Drori, Revital Raviv, Hadas Faran-Asia, Einat Aronstein and Oded Reich were joined by the Shachar Choir (director: Gila Brill).

Daniel Purcell, Henry Purcell’s younger brother (or cousin) was one of four composers entering a competition held in 1701 by Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax to encourage the development of all-sung English opera. All competitors were required to set William Congreve’s libretto to “The Judgement of Paris”. Daniel Purcell took third place and his opera quickly sank into oblivion. The libretto relates the well-known myth: Paris, a shepherd is visited by Mercury – a messenger of the gods – who gives him the golden apple of discord, which he is to award to the most deserving of three goddesses – Venus (goddess of love), Pallas (goddess of war) or Juno (goddess of marriage). In his informative program notes, Yizhar Karshon draws comparisons between the theme of the opera and the politics of Purcell’s time, in particular, regarding politicians’ (or perhaps Charles II’s) attitudes to women, maintaining that audiences of the time would have understood the warnings Paris received not to become obsessed with hedonism and idleness. Still, Paris chooses to award the prize to the god of love, with dire consequences to follow. Karshon offers explanations as to Purcell’s rich instrumentation: the two recorders (Shai Kribus, Katarzyna Czubek) symbolize the double-piped ancient Greek Aulos flute, a pastoral association. The recorders also symbolize Venus, love and temptation. Karshon mentions the role the trumpets (Yuval Shapiro) and timpani (Nadav Ovadia) play in heroic sections of the opera, especially to do with Pallas. The choir, a band of shepherds, advises and supports Paris.

Barrocade’s fresh, exuberant-sounding performance of the opening symphony takes the audience directly into Purcell’s lively music, in which a line-up of outstanding homegrown Israeli singers probed Daniel Purcell’s discerning setting of the words, with fine, uncompromising portrayals of the characters. Bass Oded Reich was a regal, authoritative and mischievous Mercury (towering, too!), his gripping presentation of the text alive with meaning, modulated and articulate. Eitan Drori’s large, silvery tenor voice served him well as Paris as he gave his all to the character experiencing a range of human emotions and beset with such human dilemmas. His gentle, supple “asides” contrasted splendidly with moments of elation, his voice swelling into some strategic penultimate dissonances:
‘O Ravishing Delight!
What Mortal can support the Sight?
Alas! Too weak is Human Brain.
So much Rapture to Sustain.
I faint, I fall! O take me hence.
Ere Ecstasie invades my aking Sense…’

As Juno, soprano Hadas Faran Asia used her intuitive sense of melodic line, her face, eyes and the stage area to portray the queen of the gods - a woman both tender, wily and controlling, as she advised Paris to go for something more ambitious and rewarding than shepherding! Einat Aronstein, clad in a mini-dress and armor, dealt as well with the challenging music as she did with the assertiveness of Pallas, taunting the confused and perplexed Paris, knocking him to the ground with her spear, as he struggled to raise himself. Soprano Revital Raviv, fetching, seductive and gracious, her voice stable and creamy, was wonderfully suited to her role as Venus as she shaped and embellished melodic lines, spinning melisma passages with alacrity and mesmerizing poor Paris.

Choruses, short as they were, were clear, blending choral timbres and well-shaped. Under Karshon’s vigilant, detailed direction, Barrocade’s instrumental playing was both committed, subtle and effective, addressing the timbral beauty of the various instruments. Small instrumental pieces (symphonies) placed between arias reflected the storyline, also allowing for movement on (or below) stage. It was a colorful production with bold, lively staging and imaginative, witty costuming. And, as the characters on stage teased or were teased, the audience could not but smile throughout the performance. Daniel Purcell’s “Judgement of Paris” is a most beautiful work, a rare find, a lost work brought back to life. An outstanding performance!



Yihar Karshon-conductor,Einat Aronstein-soprano (Tatyana Druz)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Musica Nova to perform Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet in Jaffa, Israel

Morton Feldman (photo: Jan Williams)

In April 2017, Ensemble Musica Nova will be presenting the Israeli premiere of American composer Morton Feldman’s "Piano and String Quartet". Feldman (1926-1987) was part of the New York experimental music scene alongside such composers as John Cage, Christian Wolff and Earle Brown. "Piano and String Quartet", composed in 1985, is representative of the beauty and hypnotic character of Feldman’s later works. Some 80 minutes in duration, the work undergoes no tempo changes, its dynamic range is limited and its musical material is sparse. Its hypnotic quality invites the listener to be with the moment, to focus on the static, on the piece's suspended stillness. Assaf Shatil (piano), Yael Barolsky (violin), Liora Altshuler (violin), Amit Landau (viola) and Dan Weinstein (‘cello) will be performing the work at Hateiva (19 Jerusalem Avenue, Jaffa) April 19th at 20:30.


At the second Bach in Jerusalem Festival, harpsichordists Marina Minkin and David Shemer perform Bach and works from "Conversations" - their new CD of modern music for two harpsichords

David Shemer and Marina Minkin (Photo:Avi Elbaz)

“Conversations” - one of the more intimate and unique concerts of the second Bach in Jerusalem Festival (March 20th-25th 2017) – took place at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, on March 23rd. Performing on two harpsichords -  built by Martin Skowroneck (2001) and Michael Johnson (1985) - we heard Marina Minkin and David Shemer in some of the works from “Conversations”, their recently-issued disc of works of contemporary music for two harpsichords. The CD also includes two solo works.

David Shemer, musical director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and of the Bach in Jerusalem Festival, spoke of the CD as being a highly important project for Marina Minkin and him. He expressed the hope that more works would be written for two harpsichords; he drew the audience’s attention to the fact that one harpsichord produces a delicate sound, whereas two played together resound substantially. 

Indeed, the list of works for two harpsichords even from the Baroque period – the harpsichord’s heyday – is short: there are those by F.Couperin, L.Couperin, Gaspard Le Roux, Antonio Soler and, of course, J.S.Bach and his sons. Bach, in fact, went as far as to write concertos for three and four harpsichords! In his program notes, Shemer sees the harpsichord’s renewed lease of life reflected in the growing body of modern solo- and ensemble repertoire for the instrument – from Poulenc to de Falla, via Ligeti to the present day.

When one considers the amount of duet repertoire of all kinds and levels for two pianists (on one piano or two) it is understandable that Shemer writes: “I, personally, have yet to meet a harpsichordist who does not view playing duets with another player as one of the greatest of musical pleasures”. In her unflagging determination to find little-known works for two harpsichords, Minkin came across Austrian church organist Peter Planyavsky’s “Four Pieces for Two Harpsichords” (1978). This was what led to the disc. It was also the work that opened the recital at the Jerusalem Music Centre. The Prelude, pensive in sound, presented conventional chords combined in such a way as to produce a non-tonal soundscape…perhaps suggesting the clanging of church bells. The second piece – a whimsical “Valse Inégale” – reflects the composer’s fascination with unusual rhythmic patterns. The 10/8 Lullaby proceeds in constantly moving harmonies and smudged harmonies, to conclude on a single tonic note. The “Caprice Fugée” is fired by sets of entries, each refuelling the piece’s feisty vigour, driving it on to end in a giant cluster.

Uri Brener’s “Ciacona alla Zappa” (2014) was commissioned for the Minkin-Shemer Harpsichord Duo. An unconventional meeting between the classical Renaissance chaconne form and Brener’s tribute to rock musician Frank Zappa (referred to by Brener as “one of the great musicians of the late 20th century”) the piece constitutes a vibrant mix of jazzy chords, different tempi, runs, clusters, thick textures and single-note utterances, with a quotation of a familiar early ostinato ground present.  Fine concert fare…also very challenging. Composer, pianist and arranger Uri Brener (born Moscow, 1974) writes in a wide variety of styles and genres. The composer was present at the event.

A work not included on the disc but included in honour of the Bach in Jerusalem Festival and of the first concerto for two harpsichords, Minkin and Shemer played the original version of J.S.Bach’s Concerto for two harpsichords in C-major BWV 1061. (A later version with string ripieno, probably by the composer, is often performed in concert halls.) Hearing the work takes us back to Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig of the 1730s, a venue not only fashionable but, due to its owner’s deep interest in music, equipped with the best and most up-to-date of musical instruments. It was here that the work would have had its first performance and where the harpsichord’s status rose to that of a major instrument, a solo instrument, an instrument more audible and commanding. Following Minkin and Shemer’s ample, forthright and noble playing of the opening movement, inviting the listener to ponder each of Bach’s different and enterprising musical forays between its ritornelli, the Adagio, rich in textures, slightly flexed and ornamented, in a serious vein, yielded to the lively and virtuosic fugue; in congenial and witty collaboration, the artists reminded the listener of Bach’s ingenious play of counterpoint.

The recital ended with two small pieces that have fallen into obscurity - a Polka and Waltz for two harpsichords (1936) by Prokofiev; the reason they have not been heard much (or recorded) is that they were written for Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”, a play that was never performed.  The ball scene calls for two (out-of-tune!) harpsichords placed off stage. Minkin and Shemer’s colourful performance of the Polka presents the state of social chaos in the play as the composer endeavours to stretch the boundaries of tonality; the poignant, bitter-sweet, somewhat dejected-sounding Waltz also suggests the breakdown of decorum running through the scene.

The CD, recorded in 2014 for the Omnibus Classics label, also includes works by Anna Segal, Netta Aloni, Jacov Jakulov and Oded Zehavi.



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Organist Heinrich Walther (Germany) performs an all-Bach recital at the Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem

Photo:Florian Kleineffen

A Bach organ recital is an important event at any Bach Festival. The second Bach in Jerusalem Festival (March 20-25, 2017) was no exception. Stepping in to replace Dutch organist Peter van Dijk at short notice, Heinrich Walther (Germany), no new face to Israeli organ music aficionados, played an all-Bach recital at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 25th. The concert, rung in by church bells, was well attended.

Regarded as perhaps the greatest composer of all time, Bach was known during his lifetime primarily as an outstanding organ player and technician. Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete organ works – some 250 of them - would probably fill seventeen CDs. In 1706, Bach returned from his five-month sojourn in Lübeck to hear and study under the great organist Dietrich Buxtehude. Aged 21, he took up a position in Mülhausen, moving to Weimar a year later, writing vast amounts of music for the organ and rapidly becoming known throughout Germany as one of the country’s greatest organists. Organ pupils came to him from far and wide and he received requests to test or dedicate organs in various locations. His tests began with an examination of the organ’s “lungs”, which meant pulling out all the stops, a horrifying noise to those present. He would usually finish his test by improvising a prelude and fugue to test its clarity for counterpoint. Bach’s late organ works date from his Leipzig period (1723 to his death).

Heinrich Walther opened his Jerusalem recital with the Prelude and Fugue in E-minor BWV 548, one of Bach’s most elaborate and vivacious organ pieces dating from the Leipzig period. The work represents Bach the virtuoso, playing recitals for aristocratic audiences. Walther’s celebratory performance gave expression to the Prelude’s sweep and drama and to the pizzazz of its highly chromatic Fugue (the longest organ fugue by the composer) ending in a blaze of the E-major chord. Then to “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr” (Glory to God in high), one of the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes composed in the last decade of Bach’s life. Of the cantus firmus chorale form, Walther’s bright, bell-like timbre chosen for the ornamental descant was set off by the mild, smooth bass chorale melody. Also from the last decade of Bach’s life, we heard three movements from The Art of Fugue - Bach’s monumental compendium of counterpoint all based on one principal subject. Following the serene, intimate colouring Walther chose for Contrapunctus I, Contrapunctus VII challenged the listener to find the subject in its many guises within the dense contrapuntal web. Contrapunctus X, in which the artist introduced some interesting timbral colours, teased the listener by presenting a new subject before reintroducing the principal melody. In the Trio Sonata in C-minor BWV 526, one of the six in Bach’s repertoire, all written rigorously as a trio (right hand, left hand and pedals), Walther opened with a fresh, charming and lustrous Vivace, as the strong noon sunlight poured through the church’s upper windows.  The gentle, fluid and singing Largo offered smooth tranquillity, to be followed by a lively fugue, one not without whimsy! With the Passacaglia and Fugue BWV 582, we return to Bach’s young years, to an early work possibly written following Bach’s life-changing visit to Lübeck. Heinrich Walther’s playing of the twenty-one variations of this ingenious passacaglia reflected deep enquiry into each as he dipped into Bach’s palette of textures, of spare, transparent variations to grand tutti, from quirky subdivisions of the subject and on to its massive conclusion. And if Guillaume de Machaut described the pipe organ as the “king of instruments”, the fugue must surely be the utmost working of the musical mind. Walther gave expression to the richness and nobility of this double fugue.
What would Bach say to the lungs of the Redeemer Church’s organ? Built in Berlin by Karl-Schuke in 1971, it has 21 registers connected to two manuals and the pedal. It is an instrument rich in colours and inspiring in energy, as celebrated in Heinrich Walther’s recent recital.



Monday, April 3, 2017

"Bach and Telemann" - the Barrocade Ensemble opens its portfolio at the second Bach in Jerusalem Festival

Yizhar Karshon,Tali Goldberg,Amit Tiefenbrunn,Rachel Ringelstein (photo:Nitzan Shorer)

“Bach and Telemann”, an event of the second Bach in Jerusalem Festival, was performed by the Barrocade Ensemble. It took place in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA on March 22nd, 2017.  Founded in 2007 by viola da gamba player Amit Tiefenbrunn, the Israeli ensemble’s musical director, Barrocade mostly performs without a conductor, at other times, collaborating with renowned conductors. Its overseas appearances include Purcell’s semi opera “The Fairy Queen” at Wigmore Hall, London.

The Jerusalem concert opened with the Sinfonia from J.S.Bach’s Cantata No.156 “Ich steh’ mit einem Fuss im Grabe” (I stand with one foot in the grave), one of the 30-or-so Bach cantatas focusing on the subject of death, with oboist Yigal Kaminka luring the listener into the elegiac solo with his richly mellifluous and expressive tone. Then, on recorder, Kaminka partnered with gambist Amit Tiefenbrunn to perform Telemann’s Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and b.c. TWV 52:a1 in playing rewarding in its unfussiness, energy, excitement and precision, its sympathetic commenting and dueting, these topped with the occasional recorder flourish. The artists indeed gave the stage to Telemann, himself a professional recorder player, addressing his bent for unusual scoring, his wit and emotion, but also the personal expression of the concerto, 

In Bach’s aria “Ich folge dir gleichfalls” (I follow you likewise) from the St. John Passion, soprano Yeela Avital’s sympathetic reading of the text, one of conviction, went hand in glove with Genevieve Blanchard’s eloquent obbligato playing of the Baroque transverse flute. Then, this time with viol obbligato (Tiefenbrunn) in “Es ist vollbracht” (It is accomplished) one of the St. John Passion’s most dramatic (and gorgeous!) movements, countertenor Alon Harari presented the aria’s weighty and tragic text with powerful emotion and impact, his melismatic passages and descending melodic lines met by the timbrally low and sonorous gamba. With Tali Goldberg shaping and streamlining the violin obbligato part (referred to by Yehudi Menuhin as the “most beautiful piece of music ever written for the violin”) of “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” (St. Matthew Passion) Harari’s focused, ample and rich singing in all registers gave deep pathos to its message of remorse.
“Have mercy, Lord, for my tears’ sake!
Look at me, my heart and eyes weep to Thee bitterly.”

For “Schafe können sicher weiden” (Sheep may safely graze) from Bach’s Cantata 208, Kaminka and Blanchard (recorder and flute) matched and blended well in pastoral tranquillity as Yeela Avital, with just a touch of embellishment, presented its shades of meaning. This was followed by the vibrant “Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten” (We hasten with weak yet eager steps) from Cantata 78 and sung by Avital and Harari, the aria’s underlying pulsating instrumental part evoking the urgency of the steps somewhat jazzy in concept (double bass: Ofir Ben-Zion.)

In J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.5, Tali Goldberg and Genevieve Blanchard showed that violin and flute, different as they are, could find a like-minded and agreeable musical language in which to interact. In this work, the first solo harpsichord concerto in history, Bach’s foray into the genre never ceases to take the listener’s breath away: Yizhar Karshon’s virtuosic playing of the sparkling cascading textures did just that as he showed the audience through Bach’s harmonic process with seeming effortlessness! In the pared-down Affetuoso movement, the three soloists engaged in the sublime and sombre intimacy of the piece, to be followed by the gigue of the final Allegro, rich in fugal textures, offered to the audience with joy, exhilaration and good taste.

With Heitor Villa Lobos’ admiration of J.S.Bach, referring to him as a “mediator among races”, Bachianos Brasileras No.5, at the conclusion of the program, did connect with the evening’s agenda. Yeela Avital’s creamy, heart-on-sleeve singing of the sensual, lush, long-spun theme of this Aria, the melody temporarily taken over by the viola (Yael Patish), the Aria’s central section, more folk-connected and somewhat more agitated, takes its inspiration from a poem of Brazilian writer Ruth Valadares Corrêa, depicting the rise of the moon. Avital fused together these two sound worlds in beautifully sculpted, finely detailed and unblemished singing. Barrocade sent the audience home with Blanchard’s graceful, buoyant flute solo of the Badinerie from Bach’s Suite No.2 in B-minor BWV 1067.

Very polished. Most delightful!