Friday, December 25, 2020

Vespro a due voce - Ophira Zakai, Tal Arbel, Nour Darwish and Tal Ganor perform Italian instrumental and liturgical music in Nazareth

Nour Darwish,Tal Ganor,Tal Arbel,Ophira Zakai (Yoel Levy)


 “Vespers for Two Voices”, an event of the Nazareth Liturgical Festival, was relayed on live streaming from the Synagogue Church, Nazareth, on December 18th 2020. Performing early 17th-century Italian works were sopranos Tal Ganor and Nour Darwish, Tal Arbel-viola da gamba and Ophira Zakai-theorbo/direction. Tal Arbel and Ophira Zakai gave brief explanations on the program content and on the historic instruments they were playing. Now belonging to the Greek-Catholic community, the Synagogue Church, located in the heart of Nazareth’s Old Market, its exposed stone walls decorated with impressive wall paintings, provided a tranquil and atmospheric venue for the concert.

Tal Arbel and Ophira Zakai opened with Recercada IV by leading Spanish composer Diego Ortiz (living in the viceroyalty of Naples) and author of “Trattado di glosas” - the first printed instruction book on ornamentation for bowed string orchestras. Zakai drew the listener’s attention to the fact that the writing of some of the instrumental music on this program was experimental for its time, indeed, considered avant-garde! This was evident in three pieces of the German-Italian lute virtuoso Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, one of the most successful (and least conformist) composers of his time, as heard in Arbel and Zakai’s crisp, hearty performance of “Kapsberger”  to a ground (a musical self-portrait?), a hearty “Ciaconna”  and the refined, introspective “Toccata arpeggiata”, the latter performed by Zakai alone, its perpetuum mobile manner accompanied by expanding harmonic development. Playing G.Frescobaldi’s canzona “L’Ambitiosa” on two instruments gave the artists the option of passing melodies back and forth, as they revealed the pronounced contrasts of the piece’s Italian-style writing of short sections, these including some decidedly dance-style episodes. As to Aurelio Vitgiliano, a theorist of Italian music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque period, known for his three books on performance practice and no less for his collection of virtuoso works, Tal Arbel’s alluring and versatile performance of Ricercar No.13 displayed its wide range of viol techniques, as she gave individual expression to each melodic voice and gesture.


Sacred soprano duets with basso continuo by Claudio Monteverdi figured prominently at this concert, with Nour Darwish and Tal Ganor conveying the subtle nuances and invention of the pieces, as the singers engaged in much eye contact, their fresh, mellifluous voices well matched, interweaving the melodic- and harmonic web and rhythmic vitality of these rich, complex pieces. Each item emerged intuitively and rich in contrasts, not only vocally but also instrumentally, with Zakai  and Arbel luxuriating in Monteverdi’s harmonic language, adding a variety of textures and sonorities to the soundscape. Ganor’s singing of the ostinato-based “Laudate Dominum” was buoyant, celebratory and coloured with some fine melismatic passages. Alessandro Grandi (for a time as Monteverdi's assistant at St. Mark's in Venice) took the text for “O quam tu pulchra es” (O how sweet you are) from Song of Songs. In her sparkling, dynamic performance of it, Nour Darwish gave intense expression to the array of changing emotions evolving from this monody - reflective, poignant, joyfully dancelike and, finally, languishing.


Bringing this superb music to the listener, some works pared down to chamber scoring, the artists’ performance was characterised by profound and detailed inquiry into the works, polished performance and sheer beauty of sound.



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