Friday, July 5, 2019

Tim Brown conducts the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in a program of cantatas and a work of John Ireland. Guest tenor soloist Marcel Beekman (Holland)

Maestro Timothy Brown (photo: Benjamin Harte)

Conducting the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s recent concert “Cantata for Saturday and Sunday” was not the orchestra's music director Avner Biron but Tim Brown (UK), no new face to the Israeli music scene. Also taking part were the Moran Singers Ensemble (director: Naomi Faran), tenor Marcel Beekman (Netherlands) and Israeli soloists Hadas Faran-Asia-soprano, Alon Harari-countertenor and Guy Pelc-baritone. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on June 30th 2019. 


The program opened with J.S.Bach’s Cantata BWV 55, “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht” (I pitiful man, I slave of sin), one of a series of solo cantatas (the only one for tenor); it was first performed in 1726. A short work, its chamber qualities and personal expression are reflected in Bach’s use of a small ensemble - one flute, one oboe, strings and continuo - its intense text built around a confession of sin amounting almost to spiritual self-torture. Marcel Beekman’s performance of the work was poised, exquisitely shaped, his every word articulate, as he narrated and emoted with freshness and spontaneity. Here was a fine opportunity to bask in the burnished stable richness of his voice.  Flute (Esti Rofé) and oboe (Muki Zohar), often in close combination contrasting with the string orchestra, added much timbral beauty.  Esti Rofé’s treatment of the obbligato part in the second aria abounded in lavish ornamentation. The cantata concluded with eight members of the Moran Singers Ensemble in an attentive and carefully shaped reading of the chorale. 


Then to the Sabbath Cantata by Russian-born Israeli composer Mordecai Seter (1916-1994).. Written for soloists, mixed choir and string orchestra, the Sabbath Cantata (1940) is set to texts from  the Old Testament, Song of Songs, Psalms and the liturgy; the work’s style is inspired by Middle Eastern Jewish musical traditions  making for a basis of  Seter’s own new modes and endorsed by the composer’s fine understanding of the Hebrew language. In its gentle pastel dissonances, scintillating climaxes and forthright dance rhythms, Brown brought out the score’s contrasts of mood and texture in a moving and tasteful performance articulating the 24-year-old composer’s already sophisticated style of writing, with the vocal soloists fusing melodic lines into the weave of the work or singing as a quartet. One outstanding moment was the delicate fourth movement (Peace be unto you, ye ministering angels) with its viola solo (Michael Plaskov) juxtaposed with countertenor Alon Harari’s focused and convincing singing of the text. In the work’s concluding section, taken from the Kaddish (mourner’s prayer), each syllable was enounced in an eerie detached manner. The Moran Ensemble’s singing excelled in transparency and refinement. 


Prior to the Camerata’s performance of John Ireland’s “A Downland Suite”, visiting British conductor David Wordsworth, director of the John Ireland Charitable Trust, gave some background information on the composer, emphasizing that Ireland, coming from the German musical tradition, was not interested in English folksong. “A Downland Suite” (1932) was originally written for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain and would have been played by competent amateur wind players. Nine years after writing the suite, Ireland arranged the Elegy and third-movement Minuet for string orchestra; and, in 1978, the composer’s pupil Geoffrey Bush completed an arrangement of all four movements.  Pastoral in nature, the suite was inspired by the Sussex countryside. Tim Brown’s reading of the work, flavoured with freshness, lift and understatement, brought out the natural flow of Ireland’s music, its pensive moments (especially in the magical Elegy), its joy, lyricism, introspection and its decidedly British flavour. The Camerata members’ eloquent playing of the work was surely more expressive than that of a brass band.


With its self-assured style and warm and joyous mood, J.S.Bach’s chorale Cantata No.140 “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Sleepers Awake) bears a much more positive message than the solo cantata performed at the beginning of the program. First performed in 1731 and based on the late 16th-century hymn, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," by German pastor Philipp Nicolai (who wrote it in 1599 after surviving a deadly plague in his town) it is one of Bach’s most famous and best-loved works. Never lagging, the Tel Aviv performance expounded the work’s joy and richness, its great variety and moments of  orchestral virtuosity. Celebrating Bach at his most melodic, solo singers - Marcel Beekman, Hadas Faran-Asia and Guy Pelc - offered performance that was lively, engaging and stylish, with the addition of beautifully polished instrumental obbligatos on the part of violinist Natasha Sher and Muki Zohar (oboe). Once again, the Camerata's programming and performance were a highlight of the 2018-2019 concert season.



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