Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Ensemble Mezzo (artistic director: Doret Florentin) performs virtuosic Baroque works of German and Italian composers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Department of Musicology

Photo: João Moreira


Ensemble Mezzo (artistic director: Doret Florentin) performed a program of virtuosic Baroque instrumental music at a concert of the Monday Afternoon Concert Series of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Department of Musicology on December 27th, 2021. Performing were Doret Florentin-recorder, violinists Lilia Slavny and Dafna Ravid, Amos Boasson-viola, Benny Aghassi-bassoon, Sonia Navot-'cello and Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord, all Israeli musicians living either in Israel or Holland.


Ensemble Mezzo performed a number of the (relatively few) concertante works for the recorder written in the late Baroque period. Opening the concert was G.P.Telemann's Ouverture in A minor for recorder, strings and basso continuo, a piece indeed giving prominence to recorder. (Telemann himself was a professional recorder player.) In a performance highlighting both the noble and jaunty aspects of the piece, Florentin's soloing was vivid, taking up the composer's "invitation" to engage in some ornamentation. Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor "La notte" for recorder, bassoon, strings and b.c. RV 104 must be one of the composer's most engrossingly original, quasi-programmatic compositions. To evoke its dark narrative, woven of disturbing dreams and mystery, Vivaldi chooses the key of G minor, one whose rhetoric is associated with agitation, fear and revenge. From the work's menacing opening octave utterance, the players take the audience into its series of erratically changing sections, with Florentin's small hesitations adding to the suspense, drama, the frenetic tutti and occasional otherworldly moments. Meeting her dazzling playing, Aghassi, ever attentive, answers and comments (sometimes on a whimsical note) giving vivid expression to the bassoon's new role as a soloist in its own right. It is assumed that Vivaldi intended the sopranino recorder to be the solo instrument for his Concerto in C major for flautino, strings and b.c. RV 444, a favourite with audiences due to its light-hued tonality and virtuosic writing. Vivaldi, in his imaginative exploitation of the possibilities of the tiny solo instrument, shows no mercy to the player in this concerto, a work clearly designed to showcase the soloist's extraordinary technique. Doret Florentin chooses to highlight the entertaining nature of the work, dashing off its complex figurations and episodes of increasing virtuosity with aplomb.  


The program included two rarely-performed pieces. If J.S.Bach's student Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is remembered as harpsichordist to Count Keyserlingk in the (somewhat unlikely story of the) latter's bouts of insomnia, the fact remains that Goldberg, indisputably a keyboard player of exceptional skill and virtuosity, was already composing by the age of ten, excellent and imaginative composer. Aside from his two surviving cantatas, Goldberg's oeuvre is essentially instrumental, the trio sonatas occupying a major place within it. Here was a rare opportunity to hear Goldberg's Trio Sonata in C major for two violins and b.c. DürG 13, with violinists Lilia Slavny and Dafna Ravid engaging in animated banter and imitation (each in her own personal musical language), the texture punctuated with spry bassoon comments (Aghassi). The program also included the Chaconne for violin and b.c. from Pietro Castrucci's Op.2 Violin Sonatas. Castrucci was born in Rome, where he studied with Corelli, in 1715 settling in London, there becoming known as one of the finest virtuoso violinists of his generation. (He was the inventor of the "violetta marina" - a modification of the viola d'amore. Handel, who engaged Castrucci as leader of his opera orchestra, wrote some obbligati for this instrument.) Drawing the audience into the Chaconne via their own sense of discovery, Slavny and Karshon fashioned each variation through a rich spectrum of textures, moods, tempi and violin- and harpsichord techniques, creating an exciting and not altogether unpredictable performance bristling with a sense of spontaneity. Foremost music historian of his time in England, Charles Burney considered Castrucci to be "more than half mad", obviously a good trait for an Italian composer writing virtuosic music. 


Then, to another Italian Baroque composer, but a musician located in a very different geographical and cultural environment. Born in 1685, Domenico Scarlatti spent the majority of his career in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families, the latter appointment enabling him to devote his full attention to composing for the harpsichord. Living in an isolated environment accounts for the fact that the composer's music, though contemporary with that of Bach and Handel, differs so much from theirs in style. His employer and student, Portuguese Princess Maria Barbara, later to become Queen of Spain, must have been a very fine keyboard player if she was able to play Scarlatti's most difficult sonatas. Performing Scarlatti's bewitching Sonata in C minor K.115 (one of the composer's more than 550!) Yizhar Karshon's playing was subtle, his delivery calling attention to the eccentric contrast of the subjects playing out, the no-less eccentric Scarlatti-type progressions, the piece's Spanish flavour and what could only be defined in modern terminology as "clusters"! 


Ensemble Mezzo signed out with another Telemann work featuring the recorder - the Concerto in F major for recorder, bassoon, strings and b.c., its scoring atypical of the time as, when Telemann was at his peak, the recorder was becoming overshadowed by the more fashionable transverse flute, with the result that the recorder rarely appears in his ensemble music. Ensemble Mezzo addressed the shapes and gestures of the concerto's moods, both poignant and hearty, with Florentin and Aghassi engaging in some witty dialogue in the second and fourth movements. Complementing Florentin's lucid timbre (and virtuosic playing) with his warm, rounded tone and effervescent rendition, Aghassi proves that the lowest wind instrument of the ensemble can be just as agile and pizzazzy as the highest member. 


Ensemble Mezzo was established by recorder player Doret Florentin in 2015. All members are specialists in the performance of early music played on historic instruments. Mezzo's programs sometimes include traditional music from Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, also music of Israeli composers and that of contemporary composers who have written works for the ensemble. 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

As usual dear pamela to read your critique is so fascinating and interesting and deep.
Makes one think of each word you write.
Thank you so much.