Saturday, September 26, 2020

"Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio" - a historic live recording of the Belgian gamba player together with Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) and Rosana Lanzelotte (harpsichord)

                                                           Photo courtesy Myrna Herzog

Few new recordings we listen to nowadays are of live concerts. Most are studio recordings that have undergone considerable editing. However, with the support of the Belgium-Brazil Cultural Agreement, the ARBI group, the Seminários de Música Pro-Arte and Santa Ursula University, “Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio", a recording made by Eliahu Feldman of a concert performed by three major artists on July 29th 1988 at the Sala Cecília Meirelles, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is now available to listeners, to be heard on several audio-sharing platforms. The concert features Belgian viola da gamba virtuoso Wieland Kuijken – one of the most influential artists of the 20th century Baroque music scene - together with two younger leading figures of the early music movement in Brazil - Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) and Rosana Lanzelotte (harpsichord). 

The first two works on the recording are taken from Christopher Simpson’s “The Division-Viol” or “The Art of Playing Ex tempore upon a Ground”, an extended instruction book for the bass viol first published in 1659, a manual comprising detailed guidance on how to compose “divisions” (variations) to a ground. “The Division Viol” is also one of the most valuable surviving sources of information on how the viol should be played. Adding extra layers of interest to his book, Simpson, himself a performer, composer, teacher, writer, numerologist, rhetorician, theoretician and advocate, links the practices of composing and playing to 17th century spiritual concepts that centre around the relationships believed to exist between human existence and harmony and melody. Displaying its variety and richness of ideas, Wieland Kuijken, in his characteristic nonchalance and directness, sets before the listener the music’s mix of restraint and panache, together with its spirit of experimentation. 

In Sonata for viola da gamba & harpsichord No.3 in G minor, BWV 1029 (published 1866/67), a work Italianate in nature, J.S.Bach takes us to the world of the concerto, as Kuijken introduces the opening Vivace with subtle inégal expression. He and Lanzelotte present the movement’s rich flow of motifs, exceptional contrapuntal wealth and rhythmic variety in playing that is fresh, seamless and so rich in melodic interest as to make the listener's choice of which line to focus on quite arbitrary. The artists take time to linger over the eloquent B-flat major Adagio, the viol and right-hand harpsichord parts mostly independent in their agendas, as they weave a movement of great beauty. In the final Allegro, its zestful fugue-like opening theme, shared equally by all three voices and countered by a tender, singing second subject, the listener is drawn into performance that heightens both the expressive range of the viol and the vitality of the harpsichord via Bach’s uniquely elevated musical language, in a performance unmarred by excessive tempi.

Hired as a musician to the royal court of Versailles in 1676, Marin Marais was a master of the viol and one of the leading French composers of music for the instrument. In fact, he was referred to by Hubert Le Blanc in 1740 as the musician who had “founded and firmly established the empire of the viol”.  Marin Marais’ five books of Pièces de viole (1686–1725) are mostly suites with basso continuo. Myrna Herzog joins Kuijken to play five movements of Marin Marais’ Suite in D minor from the Pièces à deux violes, Book 1 (1686). Opening with dark-hued ceremonious richness, the artists draw subtle attention to key notes of the Prélude, then breaking into dancelike joy. Following the Allemande, light of foot, reticent at times and always retaining a serious countenance, the Courante’s somewhat capricious dotted utterances and frequent punctuating rests invite spontaneity, as the courtly hemiola phrase endings humour the listener. In playing displaying the composer's own detailed, written-out  ornamentation, melding the stately with the melancholy, the artists play into the tautness of the numerous seventh chords of the Sarabande, its harmonic tensions and ornamenting making for an emotional listening experience. As to the Gigue, its melodies tripping vigorously above a solid bass, this was taken at a moderate pace, enabling the listener to relate to its profusion of detail. An interesting aspect of the work is the endless alternating of the viol parts between solo and accompaniment.

Indeed, Marin Marais, together with his contemporary Antoine Forqueray, one of the foremost players of the viola da gamba of his time, created a musical language which brought the viola da gamba to the peak of its powers, exploring every means of achieving effects and affects never heard before. Whilst Marin Marais focused largely on the lyrical, Forqueray's music was technically the most challenging to date, splendid in its level of virtuosity which, up to that time, had been the province of the violin. On the recording, Kuijken, as the main soloist, with Herzog and Lnzelotte providing the basso continuo, supporting and enhancing Kuijken's interpretation, perform the Chaconne la Morangis or La Plissay from Suite III in D from Book I of Forqueray’s “Pièces de viole”. The work’s title is possibly a reference to a town to the south of Paris. The performance  presents the myriad of ideas surging from Forqueray’s pen - variations wrought of light- and heavier textures, of noble-, coy- and introspective utterances, whimsical and plangent, to be contrasted with moments of intensity in technically complex and intricate variations. All based on one small ostinato phrase, the variations, displaying some charming dialogue here and there, are graceful and noble, in keeping with the sophisticated musical language for dance and entertainment as provided by the “musicien ordinaire”  of the court of Louis XIV.

François Couperin’s “Pièces de viole avec la basse chifrée” (Pieces for viol with figured bass) were published in 1728.  The two suites of this collection give the melodic role to the viola da gamba, with another bass viol or harpsichord realizing the figured bass. At the historic Rio de Janeiro concert, all three artists join to perform the Sarabande grave from Couperin’s Suite No.1 in E minor, the second bass viol collaborating with the harpsichord to form a solid figured bass line, here, offering just a touch of conversation between the bowed instruments and some generous harpsichord spreads. Emerging with aristocratic, stately eloquence and propitious ornamenting, as each phrase presented its specific meaning and direction, the result was a performance of profound expressivity and poetic musicianship, illuminating the true viola da gamba sound world - delicate, wispy in resonance, somewhat nasal and often melancholy - that which delighted royalty and nobility throughout the 17th- and on into the 18th century. 

Wieland Kuijken (b.1938) is widely regarded as one of the most influential pioneers of the 20th-century revival of the viola da gamba and early ‘cello. From 1959 to 1972 he performed with the Alarius Ensemble, a group devoted to performance of French Baroque music. Soon thereafter, the name "Kuijken" became synonymous with stylistically accurate performance of Baroque music, also owing to the concerts Wieland played with his brothers Sigiswald (violin) and Barthold (flute) - the Kuijken Early Music Group. Specializing in the bass viol, Wieland Kuijken has performed and recorded much repertoire as both continuo player and soloist. His recordings of Bach, Marin Marais and Forqueray have won him critical acclaim, with his repertoire including music by composers as late as Mozart and Boccherini. Wieland Kuijken has taught at the conservatories of Antwerp, Brussels, and The Hague, and has been a featured performer at early music festivals. Artists with whom he has performed include Alfred Deller, Frans Brüggen, Jordi Savall, and Gustav Leonhardt.

Considered one of Brazil’s finest harpsichordists, Rosana Lanzelotte is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (Holland). She has played in major concert venues throughout Brazil, as well as in Europe, including recitals at the Wigmore Hall (London), Salle Gaveau (Paris) and Carnegie Hall (NY). She has released six solo CDs. “Nazareth and The Brazilian Harpsichord”, devoted to Brazilian music of the 20th century, has received high acclaim. She has recorded the first harpsichord version of Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words” and Sonatas of Portuguese composer Pedro Antonio Avondano. Rosana Lanzelotte’s extensive research on Sigismund Neukomm, leading to a disc recorded with Ricardo Kanji, was nominated for the 2009 Latin Grammy and awarded the Bravo Prize. Her biographical essay “Sigismund Neukomm: my trip to Brazil”, throws light on the period the composer spent in Brazil. In 2006, Lanzelotte was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian-Israeli viola da gamba performer, conductor and researcher Myrna Herzog studied the ‘cello with Iberê Gomes Grosso, viola da gamba with Judith Davidoff and Wieland Kuijken, and was mentored in conducting by Doron Salomon.  Her articles appear in reputed journals, books and in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. In 1983, she founded the first South American Baroque Orchestra (Academia Antiqua Pro-Arte), which she conducted until emigrating to Israel in 1992, where she continues to be a leading figure on the early music scene, having produced the first generation of Israeli viol players. In 1998 Herzog founded Ensemble PHOENIX, a group performing on early instruments, which she still directs. As viola da gamba soloist, she has performed in 25 countries. Herzog took part in the Israeli premiere of Bach's Passions with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As a conductor, she has staged operas and oratorios. She has taught workshops in Brazil and at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

Referring to "Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio", Dr. Myrna Herzog explains that it was an impromptu recording, “just a souvenir” and that “we never dreamt of having this issued”.  As a result, there exist some imbalances which jazz pianist and mastering expert David Feldman has managed to minimize. He has done an outstanding job in restoring the sound, making this fascinating recording available to listeners worldwide.


Unknown said...

Very interesting and educational. Tasteful and agreeable style. Programme notes on literary music are usually dry and only for the specialist. This piece of writing made me realize that it could actually be a miniature literary genre, as educational and enjoyable as a the Concert it is describing. Excellent editing!

Unknown said...

Hi Pamela I am very happy to read your review.

Thanx for keeping this blog alive


Rosana Lanzelotte

Unknown said...