Thursday, July 23, 2020

"Baroque Gems" - The Israel Chamber Orchestra in suave performance of vocal and instrumental works at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Maestro Ariel Zuckermann, players of the Israel Chamber Orchestra (Courtesy ICO)

Despite there being no audience present in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on July 15th 2020, concert-goers were able to enjoy the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s concert of “Baroque Gems” on live streaming. Performing under the ICO’s house conductor Ariel Zuckermann, soloists included countertenor Alon Harari, orchestra members and Zuckermann himself on the flute. Joining the players was harpsichordist Aviad Stier. 


The event opened with the Overture to George Frideric Handel’s “Rinaldo”, the first original Italian opera ever to be performed on the London stage and the work that was to gain the composer the widespread recognition that he would maintain throughout the rest of his musical career. Handel composed Rinaldo quickly, borrowing and adapting music from operas and other works that he composed during the four years spent in Italy. The Overture was taken from the 1708 cantata “Arresta il passo”.  Zuckermann led his players through its French overture structure in spirited, stylish playing, addressing careful attention to rhythmic and dynamic detail, enhanced by some masterful violin and oboe soloing. “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”, a sinfonia for two oboes and strings, heralding King Solomon’s eagerly awaited guest opens Act III of Handel’s “Solomon”, an oratorio today rarely performed in its entirety. Zuckermann’s reading of the piece was fresh and celebratory, with oboists’ Keshet Seedel and Lior Virot’s duetting meticulous and vivid.


Of the arias on the program, "Frondi tenere e belle, Ombra mai fu"  (Tender and Beautiful Fronds...Never Was There Shade), the opening aria from Handel’s light and elegant 1738 opera Serse (Xerxes), was presented by Alon Harari with smooth intensity and warmth of sound, his subtle embellishing woven naturally through the vocal line. With its lilting siciliano-like 12/8 time, “Erbarme dich” (Have mercy), from J.S.Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, was poignant and affecting, the obbligato violin (Elina Gurevich) evocatively introducing and mirroring the anguish expressed in the aria. From Act 1 of Handel’s “Orlando”, we heard Harari in fresh, vigorous and energizing singing of the bravura aria “Fammi combattere” (Let me fight against any monster); here, Orlando declares that he could never love anyone but Angelica and would do anything to prove it, including fighting off fierce monsters. One of the program’s highlights was "Sol da te mio dolce amore" (Solely through you, sweet love) from Vivaldi’s opera “Orlando furioso”. The aria is sung by Ruggiero on falling victim to the snares of the enchantress Alcina, the casting of her spell depicted by the bewitching and sweetly suggestive sounds of the flute (Zuckermann), as it alternates teasingly between Vivaldi’s seductive vocal melody and its underlying tensions. Partnering Harari’s wonderfully crafted, sensitive and melancholically intense vocal line, Zuckermann’s playing emerged as spontaneous, his brilliant technique giving rise to imaginative ornamentation of Vivaldi’s haunting flute melody, the latter role often considered one of the most challenging flute solos in Baroque repertoire. 


Ariel Zuckermann also soloed in C.P.E.Bach’s Concerto in D minor, H. 426 (1747), one of five flute concertos written by J.S.Bach’s second son C.P.E.Bach, who spent many years employed as court harpsichordist for King Frederick II (the Great), the latter an avid amateur flautist. Following the delightful arpeggiated dialogue between Zuckermann and his instrumentalists of the opening Allegro movement, the flautist gave a captivating, delicate and lyrical performance of the second movement, with its brief moments of drama. As to the fiery agenda of the finale, showcasing an instrument that has, since its invention, been noted for its brilliance and virtuosic capabilities, Zuckermann navigated the Allegro di molto with precision and aplomb, presenting Emanuel Bach’s striking individuality but never sacrificing the work’s musical content for show. Would Frederick have met the demands of this piece? Probably not. It may well have been performed by the renowned flute teacher, flute maker and composer at the Prussian court J.J.Quantz, who held the exclusive privilege of approving or disapproving of the King's playing by shouting or withholding a “bravo”!


Closing with Handel’s “Rinaldo”, we heard “Lascia ch’io pianga” (Let me weep over my cruel fate), in which Almarena, mourns her captivity in Jerusalem and the absence of her lover. Alon Harari gave a poignant, warm-timbred performance of the aria, adorning the repeat section with some imaginative and daring ornaments. 


Despite not being performed on historic instruments (apart from the harpsichord), the modest size of the ICO ensemble was well suited to the performance of this repertoire, the refinement and good taste associated with Baroque music addressed throughout the program.

Countertenor Alon Harari (Ofer Amir)



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