Friday, November 8, 2019

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem opens the 2019-2020 concert season with a Bach Missa brevis, the Mozart Requiem and a new work by Josef Bardanashvili

Photo: Shirley Burdick
The Israel Camerata Jerusalem opened its 2019-2020 InstruVocal Series with works of Bach and Mozart and the world premiere of an Israeli work. Conducted by the Camerata’s musical director Avner Biron, soloists were soprano Daniela Skorka, mezzo-soprano Nitzan Alon, tenor Daniel Johannsen (Austria) and baritone Felix Kemp (UK). Guest choir was the Jauna Muzika Choir, Lithuania (conductor: Vaclovas Augustinas). This writer attended the concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on November 2nd 2019.


Josef Bardanashvili composed “Image” for chamber orchestra in memory of Ben (Benzi) Shira (1952-2018), who was the Camerata’s general manager from 2008 to 2017. Bardanashvili, who served as the orchestra’s house composer for some years, introduced the piece by talking of his working relationship and friendship with Shira, adding that the piece written in his memory should not sound sad; rather, it should be a lullaby. A kind of rondo, with two episodes, “Image” is based on the notes b-flat and e, as represented in Benzi Shira’s first name, the dissonant tritone interval expressing the composer’s anger at Shira’s passing. Bardanashvili writes of the music’s tension as never finding a solution, referring to the piece as a “romantic-nostalgic homage/image”, his respect paid to a person who left this world too early. Opening with a pensive clarinet melody, the piece proceeds to swing between tranquillity and vehemence, semplice melodiousness and dissonance, tonal and atonal writing, intimate solos and tutti. As its conclusion approaches, we hear a plangeant violin solo, with the work ending on a tranquil major chord. This is finely-crafted instrumental writing, performed with transparency and attention to detail, the inclusion of harpsichord (Marina Minkin) adding poignancy to the ensemble sound. Born in Georgia (1948), Josef Bardanashvili emigrated to Israel in 1995. A prolific composer, he is also active in the plastic arts, having exhibited paintings in his country of birth and also in Israel.


J.S.Bach’s Lutheran Masses remain somewhat of an enigma. Bach was a Lutheran church musician devoted to the composition of sacred music in German, having written more than 200 cantatas for the liturgy. His four Lutheran Masses, written in the 1730s to Latin texts, feature almost no Lutheran material. Like its counterparts, Bach’s Lutheran Mass in G minor BWV 235 consists of only a Kyrie and Gloria; a “parody” Mass, it is compiled from material of three of the composer’s cantatas, but with some changes.  Bach’s own choice of some of his finest cantata movements attests to the high quality of the G minor Mass. The small, varied work offered the audience an opportunity to hear three of the vocal soloists - baritone Felix Kemp’s bright baritone timbre in an articulate presentation of the “Gratias agimus Tibi”, Daniel Johannsen’s detailed. highly expressive and ornamented singing of the “Qui tollis”, with its beauteous oboe obbligato, and Nitzan Alon’s clear, stable, rich alto sound in her competent and profound performance of the “Domine fili”. Free of heavy vibrato, the Jauna Muzika Choir’s singing was finely detailed, objective and unmannered, its sections amalgamated into a smooth blend, with Biron striking a delicate and refined balance between choir and orchestra.  While often overshadowed by the more famous Mass in B minor, the beauty, splendid choruses and deeply moving arias of Bach’s Lutheran Masses should not be overlooked and they make for fine concert fare.


W.A.Mozart spent most of 1791 in good health, writing, performing frequently and enjoying an active social life. A prolific year, he honoured his annual commission to compose dance tunes for the court balls held each January and February, completed Piano Concerto No. 27, two operas - “The Magic Flute” and “La Clemenza di Tito” - and his last major instrumental work, the Clarinet Concerto in A. In November, he became ill, never to recover. Heavily in debt, he took on a portentous commission to write a Requiem Mass, finally struggling to complete the Requiem that he gradually came to see as his own. Surrounded by legends and left unfinished due to his death at age 35, it was completed by two former students - Joseph Eybler and Franz Xaver Süssmayr - who added to their master’s writing a stylistic fusion of influences from Schubert to Bruckner, Beethoven to Busoni. Scoring the Requiem for four vocal soloists, choir and orchestra, Mozart wished to exclude all wind instruments considered too joyful, only keep to the muted sound of the basset horn. Maestro Biron led singers and instrumentalists in a captivating performance, presenting the work’s arcane counterpoint and its evocation of a strange liturgical archaism and reading into all the details and nuances that comprise a work resembling death itself - pathetic and terrifying, calm and terrible - as it swings between harsh accents and soft, soothing and melancholic melodies. With Daniela Skorka’s clean, substantial voice present at the opening and closing the Requiem, all solos emerged meaningful and gratifying; the vocal quartets were affecting, as in the intimacy and tenderness of the “Recordare”. But it is the choir that takes on the lion’s share of the Mozart Requiem, and Jauna Muzika did not disappoint, engaging with dedication in the work’s strong emotions, as in the massive, fiery storm of the “Dies Irae”, but also with compassionate grace in the work’s flowing, velvety and caressing moments. And the Camerata’s elegant and refined signature sound was present throughout, endorsing the strong emotions and sublime beauty of Mozart’s last composition.


A festive and exhilarating event to launch the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s 36th concert season.



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