Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ensemble PHOENIX hosts overseas artists in a chamber concert on the subject "Of Love and Sin"

Myrna Herzog,Marina Minkin,Sofia Pedro,Ricardo Rapoport (Jonathan Szwarc)

“Of Love and Sin” was the title of Ensemble PHOENIX’s recent chamber concert. This writer attended the event at the Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in downtown Jerusalem on December 12th 2017. Artists performing the concert were soprano Sofia Pedro (Portugal), Ricardo Rapoport (Brazil) on bassoon and cavaquinho, Marina Minkin (harpsichord) and PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog playing viola da gamba.

For the evening’s concert, we were shown to a small, quite unusual room. Its vaulted ceiling displayed simple frescoes of biblical scenes and quotes in German, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Turkish and other languages; its seemingly wood-panelled walls turned out to be a painted effect. This was certainly a unique setting for what was to be a different kind of program, a program challenging two bass instruments to join- and strike a balance with harpsichord and the soprano voice. “Of Love and Sin” was a program bringing together music from Portugal, Brazil, Belgium, France and Italy.

The quartet opened with a festive rendition of the Italian traditional melody of “Maoz Tzur” (Rock of Salvation), as notated by  Benedetto Marcello. The song is traditionally sung during the Feast of Lights. Sofia Pedro contended especially well with the Hebrew text! This was followed by all four artists performing the same Benedetto Marcello’s joyful setting of  Psalm XV:11 (1724) a Psalm of David from his “Estro poetico-armonico” collection. It uses the “Maoz Tzur” melody as compositional material. Benedetto Marcello and his older brother Alessandro were important personages in the musical life of Venice in the first half of the 17th century. Written in the sonata da chiesa form, Benedetto Marcello’s Sonata 2 op.1 for viola da gamba and basso continuo is an elegant, dignified work but not without some intense, exciting moments. Alongside Herzog’s vital and elegantly ornamented playing of the viol part, the bassoon at times (by nature of its timbre) sounded a little too prominent. In the slow movements, the harpsichord (Minkin) added moments of textural and melodic beauty. J.S.Bach's solo keyboard arrangement of  Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D-minor BWV 974 dates from around 1715. In playing that was subtle, gently flexed, precise and decidedly gripping, Minkin highlighted the sophistication of Bach’s arrangement, exposing its marvellous array of textures in the outer movements, Bach’s reworking of it still adhering to its  concerto origin. Her eloquent playing of the Adagio (2nd movement) invited the fantasy to unfold  via  its harmonic course. Minkin was playing on an Italianate instrument built by Thomas Wolf in 1970; a historical replica of a harpsichord by Giacomo Ridolfi, 1665.

 A more sombre piece, and one probably new to the local audience was Belgian composer Joseph-Hector Fiocco’s “Lamentations” (1730s). Pedro’s singing was focused, expressive and devotional, as each movement took the listener into its subject matter  with long, contemplative melismatic passages. In Rapoport’s hands, the unique bass role, often displaying its own very different agenda, was rich in melodic and rhythmic interest, at times creating dialogue with the singer, at others, taking an individual stand. In Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Sonata No.2 Op.50 in G for bassoon and continuo, a work straddling both French and Italian Baroque styles and showcasing many of the compositional techniques that characterize  Boismortier’s writing, Ricardo Rapoport’s playing was sympathetic, playful and good-humoured; his splendid legato quality emerging warm and appealing as he created contrasts between the movements. At the very conclusion of the 3rd movement rondo, he held onto the final dissonance just that bit longer in a whimsical, gently teasing Baroque touch.

 And to love, its complications and the underhand tricks lovers play in Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s chamber cantata “Le triomphe de la constance”, scored throughout for soprano, obbligato bass viol, and continuo. Montéclair is known to have given a more prominent role to his obbligato instruments than any other composer of cantatas before his time, as is clear by the use of totally independent bass lines. In fact, his music to “La triomphe de la constance” features extensive substantive solo passages for the bass viol, here played evocatively by Herzog. In close collaboration with the players, Sofia Pedro’s rendition of the work was dramatic, spontaneous and finely crafted. With her natural theatrical flair and the wink of an eye, she concludes by drawing all the text’s cunning threads together with a few home truths:
‘Let us not yield to inconstancy;
Let us flee its perilous traps
And let our perseverance
Make us worthy of happiness.
We seek new pleasure in vain new attachments;
It is only with constant devotion
That we can fulfill all our desires.’
Marcos Portugal (1762-1830) was not only the most prolific Portuguese-born composer but also the most successful, both in Portugal and abroad (he died a Brazilian citizen). We heard two of his modinhas (traditional Brazilian love songs). Pedro’s performance of the strophic, cynical “Você trata amor em brinco” (You are making fun of love) was coquettish and saucy. For her warm and appealing singing of Portugal's "Cuidados, tristes cuidados" (Worries, Sad Worries), a  tender and unabashedly sentimental song, Ricardo Rapoport joined the ensemble with the beguiling and energetic sound of the cavaquinho (a small guitar played with a plectrum). Brazilian composer Ronaldo Miranda (b.1948) wrote much material for Myrna Herzog’s ensemble in Brazil in the 1980s. “Cantares”, a poignant and fragile love song, coloured with just a touch of nostalgia, made for a delightful and tranquil end to the program.

Ensemble PHOENIX caters to the curious music-lover. Offering new and inspirational musical experiences, Dr. Myrna Herzog continues to bring captivating repertoire to concert halls and with performance of the highest standard.




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