Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Cuckoo, the Nightingale and the Organ - the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, Yuval Rabin, Gefen and Tchelet Rabin in works for organ and string ensemble at the Redeemer Church, Jerusalem

Photo: Noam Bitton

“The Cuckoo, the Nightingale and the Organ”, a collaboration of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and the International Organ Festival (Israel Organ Association), was an afternoon concert of organ and strings on April 24th 2019 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Well attended, the concert featured organist Yuval Rabin (Israel/Switzerland), seven JBO players (leader: Zohar Alon) and Rabin’s daughters Gefen and Tchelet.


The program opened with Georg Friedrich Händel’s Organ Concerto in F major HWV 295 “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”, composed in 1739 to be played in between the first and second acts of “Israel in Egypt”. Following the brief overture, the Allegro movement presented cheerful back-and-forth echoing of orchestra and soloist in bell-like organ timbres; an extended passage for the organ began a series of cuckoo calls, later continuing with the warbling gesture associated with nightingales. As to the third movement, Handel asked for an organ improvisation, Rabin filling it with a majestic, festive opening and an aria-type piece. This was followed by a radiant, vigorous Allegro movement.


With the Redeemer Church’s Schuke organ especially suited to German music of the 17th and 18th centuries, Rabin chose to perform J.S.Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 543, one of Bach's great virtuoso works, filled with rapid figurations and requiring a very high level of dexterity. Highlighting the difference between unaccompanied and harmonized passages, Rabin’s playing of the Prelude was gripping, then taking the fugue theme through its many keys and numerous contrapuntal combinations, giving less prominent colouring to its episodes, the counterpoint then withdrawing to present another prelude-like passage of quasi-improvisatory freedom. From father to son, it is thought that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Organ Concerto in G major (1755) was written for Anna Amalia, Frederick the Great’s younger sister. She was an enthusiastic player but not able to play the pedals, probably explaining why the work has no pedal part. At the Jerusalem concert, continuo and organ gave a lively, well-coordinated performance of the work, a piece displaying Bach’s unflagging interest in exploring formal schemes and the relationship between solo and tutti, with Rabin juxtaposing two different registers in the opening Allegro, an unusually ambitious, sprawling concerto movement for the pre-Classical period. All maintained the tension of the cantabile Largo movement, to sign out with dynamic contrasts and festive organ sonorities.of the final Presto.


For the final work on the program, Rabin and the JBO string players left the organ loft to perform Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in C major for violin, ‘cello and organ in the chancel of the church. They were joined by Rabin’s twin daughters Gefen (violin) and Tchelet (‘cello). Of Vivaldi’s 600 or so concertos, those for organ (or harpsichord) are less known than many others, numbering nine in all. The keyboard style also reflects the writing of Vivaldi the violin virtuoso, with the right hand playing violin-like figurations, while the left is mostly reduced to a continuo accompaniment. With no pedal part included, and the organ part engaging only one manual, meaning that the keyboard instrument Vivaldi had in mind was clearly a chamber organ, as was played at this concert. In the spirit of C major, this concerto is joyous and light-hearted; that is not to say it is a simple work to perform for any of the soloists. Composed during Vivaldi’s time as music master at the girl’s orphanage Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, it would have been played by the Pietà’s gifted pupils during intervals in the Pietà’s church services. Playing the work by heart, eleven-year-old Gefen and Tchelet’s competence, fine technique and chamber music know-how were most impressive. The audience showed its appreciation!


Born in Haifa in 1973, Yuval Rabin studied at the Dunie Weizmann Conservatory (Haifa), the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (organ, theory, Baroque music, education), the Basel Academy of Music (organ, modern improvisation) and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensas (harpsichord, clavichord). Today, Rabin participates in festivals, performs internationally with ensembles, orchestras and choirs on harpsichord and clavichord and records. His CD “Organ Music from Israel” for the MDG label has received excellent reviews. Rabin lives in Basel, Switzerland, but remains involved in Israel’s music life.


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