Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Love songs for voice and electric guitar: Tal Ganor and Yuval Vilner wind up the 56th Abu Gosh Festival with a different kind of concert

Photo: Maya Aruch

“Electric Guitar Named Love - from Purcell to Queen” - works of love arranged for voice and electric guitar - took place on October 21st 2019 in the Crypt of the medieval Benedictine Monastery of Abu Gosh.This was the closing event of the 56th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival. Featuring soprano Tal Ganor and guitarist Yuval Vilner, the crossover concert appealed to festival-goers of all ages.


Over the last 400 years, lute songs from John Dowland’s First Booke of Songs or Ayres have been heard in a limited number of settings. Showing the perfect marriage of music and poetry of two - “Can she excuse my wrongs” and “Come again” - through a new prism, Tal Ganor and Yuval Vilner invited some of the purists among us to rethink our ideas on English Renaissance performance practice. Ganor’s light, creamy singing and emotional range are well suited to the intimacy, the somewhat whimsical confiding, the melancholy and sensuous double entendres of these small jewels. Vilner’s accompaniments, original utterances and occasional ornamenting were sensitive, tasteful and, indeed, informed. Unrequited love was also the theme of “Ojos, pues me desdeñáis” a “tonos humanos” of 17-century Spanish harpist/guitarist/composer José Marín. Ganor’s dramatic presentation was indicative of the song’s agenda of anger and heartbreak in a splendid arrangement highlighting Marin’s unexpected use of harmonic twists, his highly expressive vocal lines and rich word-painting. And how interesting it was to hear Vilner place a 19th-century Spanish instrumental piece as a prelude and postlude to Elvis Presley’s gently flowing, romantic and silken “Can’t help falling in love”, here spiced with some exotic harmonies. 


Who would have imagined that we would then be hearing the caressing sounds of the “Pie Jesu” from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem as Vilner and Ganor collaborated seamlessly to evoke its tranquillity and awe and its personal utterance of loss and hope, with Ganor showing fine control and precise intonation, concluding the piece in smooth pianissimo tonings. Vilner then amalgamated a Baroque ensemble score into one guitar role to tastefully accompany Ganor in her impressive, well-shaped singing of the ostinato aria “Addio Corindo”, one of the high points of Antonio Cesti’s 1656 opera “Orontea”. For his solo, Vilner chose to extemporize on “When You Wish Upon a Star”. His presentation of it was free, breezy and appealing, adding a dimension of subtlety and sophistication to the 1940 song written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Walt Disney’s movie “Pinocchio”.


Such an event would surely be incomplete without an Israeli song or two. The audience hummed along with the nostalgia created by the artists in their caressing, articulate rendition of Naomi Shemer’s “Endless Encounter” (lyrics: Nathan Alterman) and enjoyed the delicacy, sincerity and floating melismas produced in Yair Rosenblum’s “Song of a Weekday” (lyrics: Rachel Shapira). 


The whirlwind musical trip landed us back in England, with Ganor and Vilner’s performance of Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas”, the final aria delivered by Dido, Queen of Carthage, dying of a broken heart on learning that her fiancé, Trojan warrior Aeneas, plans to abandon her. Carefully paced and detailed, the artists delivered the aria’s content, preserving its timeless beauty, however, adding some touches of their own - some spontaneity, some unconventional ornaments and a sprinkling of 7th chords. And, as Ganor soared effortlessly up to the “Remember me” refrains that never fail to break one’s heart, one felt the aria was indeed present, unmarred by a few blue notes, still exquisite, still  gripping, but given the personal stamp of two outstanding young artists who dare to step outside the box. 


This was certainly fine festival fare, rich in variety and very well presented. For their encore, Tal Ganor and Yuval Vilner gave an expressive, honeyed and indulgently sentimental performance of Freddie Mercury’s 1975 ballad “Love of my Life” (originally performed by the British rock band Queen). 




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