Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra opens its 2014-2015 season with "Vespers"

Charles Avison
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, under the direction of its founder and conductor David Shemer, opened the 2014-2015 season with a very different kind of Baroque program. This writer attended the concert on November 11th 2014 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Peace, the Jerusalem YMCA.

The program opened with Concerto Grosso No.6 in D major by Charles Avison (1709-1770), a composer and church organist who spent his life in Newcastle, in the north of England. It is known that Geminiani visited him, but whether Avison actually studied under him remains unclear. Avison’s celebrated “Essay on Musical Expression” is the first English work on musical criticism; here he discusses the contrast between “sublime music and beautiful music”. Apart from a small amount of sacred music composed by him, Avison’s success lay in secular music and in the institution of the subscription concert series – first in London and, later, closer to home. In addition to church activities and concerts, Avison taught harpsichord, violin and flute, also giving theatrical performances. His oeuvre consists of harpsichord/organ concertos, chamber music, keyboard sonatas and 60 concerti grossi, with another 12 concertos that were arrangements of harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. The latter works constitute a landmark of English music, with Avison not merely arranging the Scarlatti sonatas, interspersed with movement of his own, but orchestrating them imaginatively. Listening to Concerto Grosso no.6 in D major, it was not difficult to hear that Avison’s skill and originality produced music in which “Scarlatti’s highly idiomatic keyboard writing becomes equally idiomatic writing for strings and especially for the violin”, in Shemer’s words. The appealing violin solos were performed adeptly by 1st violinist Dafna Ravid, with some lovely comments and support provided by violinist Jonathan Keren. Complementing them was well balanced and poignant playing on the part of the ripieno section. A composer virtually unknown to most concert-goers, here was a fine opportunity to make the acquaintance of “an elegant writer upon his art” as Charles Burney had referred to him.

Then to the Israeli premiere of one of six of Bruce Haynes’ “Brandenburg Concertos” (more of them to be heard in this season’s concerts) after works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). In 2010 Canadian oboist and musicologist Bruce Haynes conceived the idea that six new “Brandenburg” Concertos could be constructed from rich concerto pickings present in movements of Bach cantatas. The idea was based on the fact that Bach himself, under pressure to produce pieces for new occasions, frequently recycled his own works and those of others. Haynes’ argument was that if Bach himself had turned instrumental works into cantatas, the opposite process must be possible. After orchestrating three of the new Bandenburgs, Haynes sadly died quite suddenly in 2011. His widow, ‘cellist Susie Napper, completed the set of six (a traditional grouping of Baroque works being). Brandenburg Concerto No.11 in D minor, constructed from two cantata movements and one concerto movement, is scored for oboe, harpsichord, strings and basso continuo. It offers much beautiful solo material for both oboe and harpsichord, a seemingly unlikely pair to be engaging as soloists together. Israeli Baroque oboist Aviad Gershoni, currently living in Italy and performing widely, gave a fresh, mellifluous and richly ornamented reading of the solo oboe part, to be answered by David Shemer in cascades of delicate, finely detailed and lustrous extended solo harpsichord phrases. A magical and zesty performance of what is surely an enticing piece of music.

And on the subject of recycling, the third and final work on the program was Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) “Vespro della Beata Vergine”. In 1732, Pergolesi composed a setting of the Vespers in honor of St. Emidius, the patron saint of Naples and protector against earthquakes. However, the only parts that have survived are the “Domine ad juvandum”, and three Psalm settings – “Dixit Dominus”, the “Laudate” and “Confitebor”. Taking pieces from throughout Pergolesi’s much-too-short career, Malcolm Bruno, an American-born musicologist today living in Wales, reconstructed the Vespers. Premiered at the 2007 Boston Early Music Festival, it presents a full cross-section of Pergolesi’s artistic development. With David Shemer now conducting from the positive organ, this was the Israel premiere this inspiring compilation. The choice of the ADI Choir was in keeping with the JBO’s interest in nurturing the new generation of Baroque performers. Established in 2006 and under the auspices of the Israeli Vocal Ensemble, the ensemble of young singers is directed by Oded Shomrony, known to many from his work with the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, the Moran Singers Ensemble and as the baritone and musical director of the Thalamus Quartet. Shomrony’s work with the ADI Choir was detailed and thorough, the young singers’ performance buoyant, articulate, well phrased and energetic. Especially memorable was the poignant, cantabile singing of the Gloria Patri of the “Dixit Dominus”, colored with beautiful oboe-playing on the part of Aviad Gershoni and Tal Levin. Israeli soprano Daniela Skorka, whose repertoire includes both sacred works and opera, recently took 3rd prize at the Pietro Antonio Cesti International Competition for Baroque Singing (Innsbruck). Her handling of the mammoth solo role in the Pergolesi was outstanding. What was clear was her profound understanding of the work at hand; she created each mood, threading ornaments and melisma through the musical text with natural agility, also communicating well with her audience. Skorka’s voice, stable and unforced throughout its registers, is a fine and pleasing instrument. The “Vespers” ended with her convincing and compassionate performance of the “Salve Regina” (at times reminiscent of the composer’s “Stabat Mater”), its many gestures, dissonances and emotions purporting to one of the pinnacles of devout Baroque music and spirituality.
G.B.Pergolesi

Maestro David Shemer and his instrumentalists’ sensitive and delicate performance throughout the evening provided each work with refinement and grace of style. The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season promises to take listeners into less familiar regions of Baroque music, albeit representing compositional practices common to the time this music was written. The season set off to a fine start.


 



Friday, November 14, 2014

Romanian organist and harpsichordist Zsolt Garai ends his three concerts in Israel with an organ recital at St. George's Anglican Cathedral, Jerusalem

On November 7th 2014 Romanian organist Zsolt Garai gave the last of three organ recitals in Jerusalem on his first concert tour of Israel. Under the auspices of the Romanian Cultural Institute (Tel Aviv), the recital took place at the Cathedral of St. George the Martyr. Established in 1898, the Anglican Cathedral, situated in East Jerusalem, is the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Its buildings surround a typically English collegiate quadrangle. The church organ, a Rieger instrument (Austria, 1984) boasting a lively temperament and many reed stops, stands at ground level at the back of the church. With the seats turned to face the back of the Cathedral for the occasion, people attending the concert enjoyed a rare opportunity of seeing the artist performing from close proximity, not the case at most organ recitals. Garai was assisted by Inna Dudakova, organist of St. George's Cathedral.

Born in 1979 in Arad (Romania), Zsolt Garai began piano lessons at a young age. He attended the Sabin Dragoi Art School (Arad), proceeding to the Gheorghe Dima Music Academy in Cluj, Napoca, where he studied organ and composition, taking a master’s degree in 2005 and receiving his PhD in 2013. With a busy international performing career in Europe, Zsolt Garai is presently a lecturer in the Music Pedagogy Department of the Emanuel University, Oradea Romania and is the harpsichordist in the “Il Pastor Fido” Baroque Music Ensemble.

The program opened with J.S.Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565). Probably composed some time from 1703 to 1708 (the original manuscript did not survive) and published in 1833 through the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn, this work never fails to grip the listener with its opening unison phrase peeling out like a flash of lightning. Garai brought out all the Toccata’s different motifs, pacing them spontaneously and presenting the piece’s rhapsodic, dazzling character. With the Fugue beginning more modestly, he built it up gradually, offering its conversational aspect with small echoing responses, arriving at its momentous and dramatic interrupted cadence, giving way to brightly timbred runs, dissonant chords and energy to bring the work to an exhilarating conclusion.

We then heard a work written by Bernardo Storace, an Italian composer (fl.1664), about whom very little is known, apart from the fact that he was vice maestro di cappella to the Messina senate. His only known volume, an impressive collection of keyboard works published in Venice (1664), belies his predilection for variation forms. Garai’s performance of a Passacaglia (played with no pedals) was colored with timbral contrasts, also contrasts of meter and mode, with vitality as well as humor, its stylish, imaginative keyboard writing and varied techniques attesting to the composer’s own technical ability.

Daniel Croner (1656-1740), apparently a native of Kronstadt (now Brasov, Romania), a theologian and composer of organ music, completed four books of organ tablatures. A scribe, he was known to have spent four years copying works from the Brasov manuscript, mostly for his own use and for the Lutheran service. The Magnificat 8 toni, from the Brasov manuscript, consists of five verses, based on a traditional cantus firmus, probably originally alternating with sung chant. In four of them, the cantus is presented in long note values in the pedals, with the two manuals creating contrapuntal lines boasting much imitation. Garai’s playing offered an informed glimpse into the articulate and imaginative style of German pre-Bach organ composition, conservative and unpretentious in nature, yet innovative and certainly not lacking in dissonance.

An introspective moment was provided by French organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant’s (1837-1911) Sonatina, an organ arrangement of the first movement of Bach’s funeral Cantata no.106 “Gottes Zeit” (Actus Tragicus). Garai captured the meditative atmosphere of the work, the melody (scored by Bach for recorder) singing in bell-like tones against a veiled, mysteriously evocative registration of the lower instruments.

C.P.E Bach’s Sonata in G minor Wq70,6, one of five or six for the organ, takes the listener away from the complex counterpoint of Baroque organ music and into the realm of transparent lines bristling with melodic ideas. They use the manuals only as they were written for Princess Amalia of Prussia, Frederick the Great’s sister, who was unable to play the pedals. Garai’s unmannered and direct approach in his performance of the G minor sonata entertained the listeners with the music’s galant style, humor and joie-de-vivre.

The last two pieces on the program connected directly with J.S.Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor that had opened the recital. The first was “Ataccot” by Enjott Schneider (b. 1950, Germany), a musician of amazing versatility; musicologist, organist, singer, conductor and organist, he is a major composer of film music, his works characterized by the merging of many styles, from serial techniques to rock music. “Ataccot”, a tongue-in-cheek piece for organ, is simply a retrograde version of the D minor Toccata (hence its name). Neither unpleasing nor nonsensical to the ear, this piece is effective. In his playing of it, Zsolt Garai preserved Bach’s majestic soundscape. Listening to it, I found myself unraveling the various motifs to restore them to their originasl order!

The artist enjoyed the quality of the organ at the Cathedral, finding it lively and reactive. Garai's choice of the Toccata was not coincidental: as a doctoral candidate, he did research on the origins of the organ toccata from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The recital ended with Zsolt Garai’s “To-kka-tes”, also inspired by-and based on the same Bach Toccata. Taking motifs from the Toccata, Garai develops them with a generous dose of fantasy, dynamic variety, textures and timbres, choosing motifs that produce some decidedly dissonant and energetic material, his use of clusters imaginative and vivid. An avalanche of ideas sounding fresh and spontaneous and displaying the organ’s colorist possibilities, Garai gave the virtuosic text his all, signing out with a merging of old and new and the wink of an eye.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA opens the 2014-2015 season with works of Kopelman and Mahler

Aviya Kopelman
Embarking on its 77th season, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra opened the Classical/Vocal Series on October 23rd 2014 in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. Under the baton of Frédéric Chaslin, the JSO’s musical director, the orchestra was joined by the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir (Hannah Zur, conductor) and the Israel Kibbutz Choir (Yuval Benozer, conductor) and soloists soprano Anastasia Klevan and mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny.

The program opened with a work by the JSO’s composer in residence, Moscow-born composer and pianist Aviya Kopelman “Between Gaza and Berlin”. Having composed the piece in the summer of 2014, Kopelman’s personal reference to Jerusalem and to Israel is as “eternally torn between the two”. Kopelman’s belief is that the artist is inseparable from society and that he/she plays an active role in shaping it. Having first decided on the title of the work, Kopelman writes that “recent events” (the war taking place in the summer of 2014) “added extra weight” to the work’s meaning. Having said that, she dismisses the idea of our approaching it as program music, offering the listener the option of allowing to the work to take the listener wherever his imagination would lead him…hopefully to “new and better places”. “Between Gaza and Berlin” consists of several short untitled movements, pieces of different moods and, indeed, of different styles. The work opened with a menacing, almost overpowering drum scene, punctuated by chimes and introducing a violin melody of long phrases as well as moments of fragmented dialogue - certainly a powerful and uncompromising opening movement. Having grabbed her audience by the scruff of their collars in the first movement, Kopelman opens the second movement in a dreamy, otherworldly vein, somewhat thoughtful, yet painful, with woodwind and violin melodies set over a chordal accompaniment. But then, all hell breaks loose on a stark, confrontational background, with a somber melody placed against a repetitive, syncopated and disturbing backing. In a loose ABA form, the movement takes the listener back to the first idea, to end suddenly. The third movement, more tonal in concept, presented a downcast, wistful melodic line over a slow waltz rhythm accompaniment: a sadly comforting utterance, colored with some loaded harmonies and the sweetness of the harp. Movement no.4 was a feisty, whimsical and short, an intense piece of bristling with short utterances, offering different timbral ideas due to their constantly changing instrumental combinations. The final movement painted a fraught cheerless canvas, one of the deathly knell of tubular bell, deep brass and dark screens of sound, with a repetitive woodwind motif adding melodic content. Aviya Kopelman, an interesting, confident artist with a wide, eclectic scope and strongly independent in expression, paints with large brushstrokes. In her hands, the full symphony orchestra does not afford the audience an opportunity to ignore the matter at hand, to look away. Her orchestra is a powerful, expressive and emotional tool and she wields it convincingly. Maestro Chaslin was with her and the score all the way.

Another intense work, also scored for large orchestra - Mahler’s Symphony no.2 “Resurrection” (not Mahler’s title) in c minor - provided the second half of the program. For Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) the symphony was to present the death of the hero of his Symphony no.1, but, for the listener, it might just as well promote reflection on death in general, its apocalyptic Finale no less than a resurrection of the dead, a merging of a German folk song and a somewhat altered form of Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode, providing the vocal content of the symphony. Chaslin, orchestra and singers re-created the work’s canvas of emotional and timbral dimensions, of which Mahler himself was convinced that it could “no more be explained than the world itself”. With freshness of color, articulacy and transparency, we were presented with the symphony’s tumultuous, tragic text versus tranquil and fragile nostalgia and naïve scenes, bursts of evocative solo instrumental playing and sensitive, well-coordinated choral singing. The two young vocal soloists - soprano Anastasia Klevan and mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny - were impressive in their involvement, beauty of sound and poise. Frédéric Chaslin addressed the work’s finely shaped musical gestures as articulately as he addressed its weighty expressive issues.

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra opened the 2014-2015 Classical- and Vocal Series with a bold statement, offering those present in the packed Henry Crown Hall an evening of the indulgences of vivid, living orchestral color and two weighty works sympathetically paired.




Embarking on its 77th season, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra opened the Classical/Vocal Series on October 23rd 2014 in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. Under the baton of Frédéric Chaslin, the JSO’s musical director, the orchestra was joined by the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir (Hannah Zur, conductor) and the Israel Kibbutz Choir (Yuval Benozer, conductor) and soloists soprano Anastasia Klevan and mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny.

The program opened with a work by the JSO’s composer in residence, Moscow-born composer and pianist Aviya Kopelman “Between Gaza and Berlin”.  Having composed the piece in the summer of 2014, Kopelman’s personal reference to Jerusalem and to Israel is as “eternally torn between the two”. Kopelman’s belief is that the artist is inseparable from society and that he/she plays an active role in shaping it.  Having first decided on the title of the work, Kopelman writes that “recent events” (the war taking place in the summer of 2014) “added extra weight” to the work’s meaning. Having said that, she dismisses the idea of our approaching it as program music, offering the listener the option of allowing to the work to take the listener wherever his imagination would lead him…hopefully to “new and better places”.  “Between Gaza and Berlin” consists of several short untitled movements, pieces of different moods and, indeed, of different styles. The work opened with a menacing, almost overpowering drum scene, punctuated by chimes and introducing a violin melody of long phrases as well as moments of fragmented dialogue - certainly a powerful and uncompromising opening movement. Having grabbed her audience by the scruff of their collars in the first movement, Kopelman opens the second movement in a dreamy, otherworldly vein, somewhat thoughtful, yet painful, with woodwind and violin melodies set over a chordal accompaniment. But then, all hell breaks loose on a stark, confrontational background, with a somber melody placed against a repetitive, syncopated and disturbing backing. In a loose ABA form, the movement takes the listener back to the first idea, to end suddenly. The third movement, more tonal in concept, presented a downcast, wistful melodic line over a slow waltz rhythm accompaniment: a sadly comforting utterance, colored with some loaded harmonies and the sweetness of the harp. Movement no.4 was a feisty, whimsical and short, an intense piece of bristling with short utterances, offering different timbral ideas due to their constantly changing instrumental combinations. The final movement painted a fraught cheerless canvas, one of the deathly knell of tubular bell, deep brass and dark screens of sound, with a repetitive woodwind motif adding melodic content. Aviya Kopelman, an interesting, confident artist with a wide, eclectic scope and strongly independent in expression, paints with large brushstrokes. In her hands, the full symphony orchestra does not afford the audience an opportunity to ignore the matter at hand, to look away. Her orchestra is a powerful, expressive and emotional tool and she wields it convincingly.  Maestro Chaslin was with her and the score all the way.

Another intense work, also scored for large orchestra - Mahler’s Symphony no.2 “Resurrection” (not Mahler’s title) in c minor - provided the second half of the program. For Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) the symphony was to present the death of the hero of his Symphony no.1, but, for the listener, it might just as well promote reflection on death in general, its apocalyptic Finale no less than a resurrection of the dead, a merging of a German folk song and a somewhat altered form of Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode, providing the vocal content of the symphony. Chaslin, orchestra and singers re-created the work’s canvas of emotional and timbral dimensions, of which Mahler himself was convinced that it could “no more be explained than the world itself”.  With freshness of color, articulacy and transparency, we were presented with the symphony’s tumultuous, tragic text versus tranquil and fragile nostalgia and naïve scenes, bursts of evocative solo instrumental playing and sensitive, well-coordinated choral singing. The two young vocal soloists - soprano Anastasia Klevan and mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny - were impressive in their involvement, beauty of sound and poise. Frédéric Chaslin addressed the work’s finely shaped musical gestures as articulately as he addressed its weighty expressive issues.

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra opened the 2014-2015 Classical- and Vocal Series with a bold statement, offering those present in the packed Henry Crown Hall an evening of the indulgences of vivid, living orchestral color and two weighty works sympathetically paired.








Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ensemble PHOENIX closes the 46th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival with "Of Shadows & Angels"

Crypt of the Crusader Church
Concluding the 46th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival on October 18th 2014, Ensemble PHOENIX premiered “Of Shadows & Angels” in the intimate Crypt below the 12th century Crusader Church in the lower part of the town of Abu Gosh in the Jerusalem Hills. Performing on early instruments, we heard Cordelia Hagman and Tali Goldberg – Baroque violins, Dr. Marina Minkin – virginal and PHOENIX founder and musical director Dr. Myrna Herzog on Baroque ‘cello. This was Cordelia Hagman's first performance on Baroque violin. In her debut with PHOENIX, we heard guest soloist soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir.

The program opened with “Angels Ever Bright and Fair” from G.F.Händel’s (1685-1759) oratorio “Theodora” (1750). In this aria, Theodora begs the angels to take her away rather than be enslaved in the royal court brothel – a fate worse than death. In delicate dialogue between singer and violins, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir created the fragile situation together with Theodora’s stately and noble character in delicate, emotionally loaded understatement. In “Ombra mai fu”, setting the scene for Händel’s opera “Serse” (1738), (originally to be sung by a castrato) Rostorf-Zamir’s directness and unmannered approach allowed for the sheer beauty of this piece to emerge, her ease and clarity in the upper register floating the plaintive aria:
‘Tender and beautiful fronds
Of my beloved plane tree,
Let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning and storms
Never disturb your dear peace…’
Rostorf-Zamir’s superb vocal control and warm personality shone in her singing of the gentle (tenor) aria “Waft her, angels thro’ the skies” from “Jeptha” (1751), where Jeptha mourns his daughter in the last of Händel’s 18 oratorios in English. It came across with tender eloquence, colored with dynamic variety.
“Come nube che fuggedal vento” (As a cloud which flees from the wind) from “Agrippina” (1709), introducing a very different mood, was a highlight of the concert. Here, Rostorf-Zamir’s opera background gave fine expression to Händel’s fine dramatic writing in the Italian opera seria style as she negotiated the aria’s frenzied melismatic passages with pizzazz. She drew attention to the text, its word-painting highlighting such words as “flies”, “wind”, “fire” and “cold” in conjuring up the evil, cunning and deceitful goings-on of the 1st century Roman court. No less exciting was the ensemble’s involved playing.

The central vocal work on the program was Alessandro Scarlatti’s (1660-1725) chamber cantata Serenata “Notte ch’in carro d’ombre” (Night that in the chariot of shadows), one of over 600 works of this genre written by the composer. Not an easy score to come by, Myrna Herzog, following months of searching, finally obtained a copy of it from Polish colleagues. In the cantata, the lovesick Amaryllis, unable to fall asleep at night, announces that she would prefer to die. In this intense soliloquy, Rostorf-Zamir uses her palette of emotional colors to take the listener through the different moods, changing like theatrical scenes, moving through Amaryllis’ mind – their optimism, their urgency and their pain . Alongside the long, lush vocal lines, there was much instrumental interest and entanglement, the players always a part of the dramatic cantata’s intense – at times, dissonant - verbal and musical imagery evoking night, dreams and unfulfilled love.

Of the instrumental music in the program, Myrna Herzog and Marina Minkin, enlisting imagination and the lively exchange of artists who have performed together for many years, gave a poignant and cantabile performance of a set of anonymous (but familiar) “Divisions upon an English Ground”. Not often enough heard, Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) 4-part sonatas (published after his death) give insight to the composer’s juggling of English style and the Italian model together with some “French air…good for gaiety and fashion”, a picture of what was current in London’s musical life of the 1680s, a somewhat controversial affair! In bold, fresh playing of chamber music of repertoire intended for the London concert scene, bringing out Purcell’s personal melodic- and harmonic idiom, this piece gave much independence and say to both violinists, with some virtuoso passages for the ‘cello.

Taking a giant leap from the Baroque period into contemporary Israel, but still on the subject of angels, the PHOENIX players and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir premiered violinist Jonathan Keren’s setting of a song by composer, pianist arranger and singer Yoni Rechter (b.1951, Israel), “D’ma’ot shel Mal’achim” (Tears of Angels) to lyrics of Dan Minster. Keren’s sensitive arrangement of this nostalgic song was sophisticated, delicate and subtle, preserving Rechter’s unique mix of classical, jazz and pop styles, offering pleasing textures to players and singer. Here was Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, a singer with an international recital- and opera house career, indulging quite naturally in a very different genre, winning over the audience with her personal and touching performance of this bittersweet and thought-provoking song.
“And when angels weep
In the other world,
We are then sadder in this world…” (Translation P.Hickman)

With the audience seated on three sides of the stage, close to the artists, the Crypt was the ideal venue for Myrna Herzog’s evocative and creative program. With the concert over, we climbed the ancient stone steps back to daylight and arrived back in the tranquil, exotic gardens surrounding the church, pausing for just a few more moments to call to mind the unique mood “Of Shadows and Angels”.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ensemble PHOENIX and VOCE PHOENIX in "Tarantella Napoletana"at the 46th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

Dr. Myrna Herzog
One of the final events of the 46th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival was “Tarantella Napoletana – Music from Spanish Naples”. Members of Ensemble PHOENIX and VOCE PHOENIX (musical director, conductor and staging Myrna Herzog), joined by soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir in her first performance with PHOENIX, presented this program of works on October 18th, 2014 at the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim, situated on the site of an early fortress site in the Jerusalem Hills.

The Chapel Royal of Naples was the sacred musical establishment of the Spanish court in Naples, beginning with the Aragonese Court of Naples and continuing under the Habsburgs, the Bourbons and Joseph Napoleon. Influence of the Spanish rule in Baroque Naples was an element running through most of the works heard at this concert. Cristofaro Caresana (1640-1709) was born in Venice but settled in Naples before the age of 20; there he worked in theatre, was a singer and organist in the Royal Chapel, then becoming maestro di cappella of the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio in 1668. Caresana’s works have received little to no performances in Israel. One could surmise that the PHOENIX performance of three of the composer’s succinct, quasi-theatrical Nativity cantatas were Israeli premieres. Colored by the composer’s dissatisfaction with Spanish rule in Naples, “La Caccia del Toro” (Hunting the Bull) presents the dilemma between Toro the bull (baritone Guy Pelc) and Humility (soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir). (Choosing Toro as a character also suggests criticism of the fact that the Spanish wanted to introduce bull-fighting into Naples). Guy Pelc gave an intense portrayal of the unbending, power-struck Toro, his sturdy, rich voice ringing out dramatically, changing with each gesture, as he vied with the wise, courageous figure of Humility, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir. She was expressive, well cast and “proud to bear the title of damsel”. The intensity of the work was broken minimally by few choruses, a gentle and beautifully crafted duet sung by tenor Jacob Halperin with the mellow involvement of contralto Yael Izkovich, as well as some pleasing instrumental moments, with beautifully wrought recorder playing (also, throughout the program) on the part of Uri Dror and Adi Silberberg.

No less unconventional in character is Caresana’s “La Tarantella”, in which it is thought we hear the first ever appearance of the tarantella melody in art music. In a setting of the sophisticated text, encompassing pastoral folklore and the Bible, the artists, opening with angels (Michal Okon, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir) waking the sleeping shepherds on stage with the news of Christ’s birth. This small masterpiece was steeped with energy and joy, the gentle use of castanets a reminder of Spanish presence in Naples. Here, in an intimate and convincing soliloquy, we hear Pelc now portraying an anguished, and dejected Pluto:
‘I flutter over the vast sky
Too disdainful of beauties,
But I have fallen, so now I sigh,
Blind King of an ominous empire
Fulminated giant, black angel…’
Jacob Halperin’s bright, clean tenor solo was gratifying, as was the entertaining echo piece, naïve in its confirmation of the details of the Christmas story. The four singers, constantly alert, effectively fused short phrases into unified sections made up of fast-exchange responses to create a crowd scene. The tarantella chorus itself, varied in scoring, supported by pleasing filigree plucked sounds and interludes, provided the centerpiece of the work:
‘To the rocks, the burrows, the forests
The wild beasts have become docile.
Every square in the woods is flowery,
As life returns to the world.
To the forests, the valleys, the caves,
Cherish, revere, worship this beautiful night!’

“La Veglia” (The Vigil) offers the most unconventional and daring of the three plots. The setting is a game of “Ombre”, a card game popular in 17th century Naples. Jesus is portrayed as a gambler who, dying, wins the game. In this work of strong characterization, fine, joyous dance music and rich tonal effects, all singers displayed involvement and understanding of the decidedly theatrical aspect of the work, as its as yet unresolved moral dilemma posed questions to the listener. With Herzog’s settings never static, instrumental textures produced constant new color, Adi Silberberg’s playing of the colascione (a plucked instrument of the lute family) infusing the ensemble sound with delicate color and authenticity. With the singers gradually moving forward, we heard the soothing legato lines of the magical “Dormi o ninno” (Sleep, little baby) lullaby suspended over a simple but inebriating ostinato accompaniment evoking the rocking of a baby. The cantata ended on a joyful note, with singers and Herzog herself joining to ‘give applause…to the value of the player…’ Myrna Herzog drew her settings for the cantatas from the manuscripts themselves and translated the Italian texts into English. Uri A. Dror translated the latter into Hebrew. Hearing these works performed was a fine opportunity to appreciate the style of Naples’ specific form of religiosity – a spontaneous, gregarious and “secular” affair, one of angels and devils, celebrated with works that were vigorous and ostentatious, an aesthetic of color, directness and contrasts. These vivacious performances of the Caresana cantatas, therefore, were a reminder of the sumptuous Christmas festivities and performances in Naples, the immense and chaotic capital of the Spanish viceroyalty. Myrna Herzog’s staging, though understated, pointed to the focus and meaning of each development.

The Abu Gosh program included two instrumental works by Andrea Falconieri (c.1640-1709). Born in Naples, lutenist, theorbist and guitarist Falconieri made his living as a lutenist at the court in Parma, also in Florence, Rome and Modena. Peripatetic in lifestyle, he spent several years in Spain before returning to Italy. His only book of instrumental music was published in 1650, with each piece dedicated to a member of Spanish nobility residing in Naples. Herzog’s instrumentation brought out the inner emotional and descriptive content of each piece. In “La Suave Melodia”, she had the melody alternating between violin (Tali Goldberg) and recorder (Silberberg), setting each against a differentiated continuo. In the second part of the piece – a Corrente – Herzog told me she had “played even more with instrumentation, alternating solo and tutti and adding Spanish-like percussion”. In “Battalla de Barabaso yemo de Satanas” (Battle of Barabbas, Son-in-law of Satan) we are once again confronted with the conflict of good and evil but, despite the work’s religious implications, Falconieri was also making a political statement…that he supported the Spanish, the devils representing the Italians!! For this piece, Myrna Herzog chose four instruments – two violins, two recorder - rather than two, to engage in battle. The result was colorful. This was music-making to be seen as well as heard. Lutenists were the instrumental stars of their day and Falconieri’s itinerant life and opinions showed him to be no conventional character; however, the PHOENIX instrumentalists gave a finely balanced, elegant and well varied performance of the work, vivid but never excessive.The ensemble was absolutely superb.

The concert had one more treat in store – soprano Michal Okon’s solo performance of Orazio Michi dell’Arpa’s strophic lullaby “Ninna nanna al bambino Gesù (Lullaby for baby Jesus). Now virtually unknown, Orazio Michi (1595-1641) was born near Naples, entering into the service of Cardinal Montalto in Rome at a young age and then of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy. He was a virtuoso who hobnobbed with high society. Admired for his virtuosic playing of the harp, his playing was compared with that of Frescobaldi on the harpsichord and Kapsberger, on theorbo. No new face to PHOENIX and the early music scene, Michal Okon has performed and held master classes in Israel, Europe and the USA, also promoting contemporary works. Her tender, unmannered performance of “Ninna nanna” was communicative, exquisitely tranquil and warm, her voice well projected into the dimensions of the church.





Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ensemble Flauto Dolce in concert at the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar

A major event of the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar (director: Drora Bruck) on October 13th 2014 at the Lin and Ted Arison Israel Conservatory of Music was a concert performed by four members of Ensemble Flauto Dolce, Romania – artistic director Zoltán Majó (recorders), Mária Szabó (recorders), Erich Türk (harpsichord) and Mihaela Maxim (soprano). Ensemble Flauto Dolce was established by Zoltán Majó within the framework of the Gheorghe Dima Music Academy in Cluj in 2000, with the aim of familiarizing the recorder and its repertoire to Romanian audiences. The ensemble presents from Renaissance to contemporary works of traditional- and art music in different recorder settings, in particular, performing early music from Romania found in old Romanian- and other European manuscripts. As the guest ensemble of the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar, Flauto Dolce’s wish was to bring this Romanian repertoire to the attention of seminar participants and audiences, both in concerts and master classes. This was the ensemble's first Israeli appearance. The Romanian Cultural Institute, Tel Aviv, supported Flauto Dolce’s participation in the seminar. This writer also attended sessions of the International Conference on the Study of Performance, Past and Present (conference chairs: Dr. Uri Golomb, Dr. Alon Schab), in which presentations by Erich Türk (Interpretation inspired by period instruments: Transylvania’s Baroque organ positives) and Mária Szabó (Early music from Romania…musical performance in Romania in the 17th to 19th centuries, based on original manuscripts) shed light on the very many different geographical and ethnic traditions and styles feeding into the wide repertoire of Romanian music and culture.

The concert program included interesting pieces from three regions of Romania today – Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia. What has characterized and continues to do so in these regions is the coexistence of several cultures and nationalities (Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Hassidic Jews, Armenians, etc) and religious groups (Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed Church, Muslim and Jewish). Researcher of early Romanian music manuscripts Mária Szabó writes: “This colorful mixture of different styles and influences is reflected in the musical materials that can be found in the original manuscripts…preserved in various archives throughout Romania, which represent a valuable contribution to the history of East-European music”.

The concert opened with three pieces from Codex Caioni (Transylvania, 17th century), the first a harpsichord piece, then two sacred vocal works. Johannes Caioni was a Franciscan monk, musician, folklorist, humanist and organ builder, whose collection includes works of composers, folk songs, courtly dances, church music and works performed by high society and lower.

We heard some works of German composers in Romania, firstly two songs by organist Gabriel Reilich (1643-1677) from Hermannstadt (today Sibiu, Romania); then “Ach, süsses Wort” (Oh, sweet word) by Johann Sartorius (1712-1787). Also from Hermannstadt, Sartorius, an organist in a Lutheran church, composed cantatas, writing in a style between Baroque and Classical. Türk’s tasteful performance of the galant-style harpsichord Arioso & Sonata by Martin Schneider (1748-1812) from the Choral Book 1779 from Braşov (formerly Kronstadt) was a finely played example of house music, of keyboard fare accessible to the listener but demanding of good technique and stylistic accuracy.

Worlds away, yet from the same vicinity, we heard some anonymous traditional Armenian songs from Gherla (formerly Armenopolis) a cathedral city close to Cluj, founded by Armenians. Here, Ensemble Flauto Dolce transported the audience to the world of oriental music and culture and mystery, with arrangements now not anchored in western harmony, but with melodies of octave doubling and with the use of percussion instruments. In one song, soprano Mihaela Maxim, in warm, honeyed sounds, was joined in song Majó in an appealing song arrangement, whereas, in another, she adopted a folk-like manner of chest voice singing – earthy, rustic and real. Altogether, the folk material, however artistically set, never lost its authentic feel; it was embellished by some charming effects - finger-snapping, a vase used as a percussion instrument and typical bourdon accompaniments, the augmented second often present in its folk scales.

The song repertoire of the Hassidic Jewish community from the Maramuresh region was beautifully represented, sung in Yiddish and presented with the characteristic mix of joy, humor and underlying melancholy. In the first song, a rain drum, producing an inebriating rain effect, accompanied a prayer for rain. Mihaela Maxim captured the Hassidic inflection as she convinced and entertained, with the instrumentalists evoking something of the carefree playing of Hassidic wedding musicians.

And then there was an item to make all recorder players sit up and rub their eyes – a G.Ph.Telemann recorder sonata for two alto instruments, discovered in a 1757 manuscript at Sfântu Gheorghe (formerly Sepsiszenthgyörgy), probably originating at the Dresden court. Had we not played all the Telemann sonatas, familiar with every note of them? Apparently not! Performed sympathetically and with much dialogue by Majó and Szabó, the three-movement B flat major sonata made its Israeli debut, the lower voice (Szabó) mostly supplying harmonic support to the upper, more melodic voice.

The concert ended with two anonymous Romanian songs and some old Romanian dances from Moldavia and Wallachia. Maxim’s theatrical flair and facial expressions lent much humor to the songs as the instrumentalists added their contribution to the fun, ending the program with all care thrown to the winds in a wildly hopping Romanian dance.

This was an evening bristling with interest, of variety and very fine and carefully stylized playing. Zoltan Majo's arrangements were tasteful, their use of tenor and bass recorders providing an active, mellow but non-obtrusive setting for many of the songs. Mihaela Maxim took on each style and mood with informed versatility, her fine, richly colored voice communicative and pleasing. Erich Türk’s explanations throughout the evening added much to the audience’s understanding of the breadth and abundance of Romanian music.





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini (Italy) in a recital at the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar

One of the major events of the 5th Tel Aviv International Early Music Seminar (director Drora Bruck) was a harpsichord recital by Rinaldo Alessandrini (Italy), one of the course tutors. The concert took place at the Lin and Ted Arison Israel Conservatory of Music on October 11 2014. Rinaldo Alessandrini (b. 1960), a renowned recitalist on harpsichord, fortepiano and organ, is considered one of today’s most authoritative interpreters of Monteverdi. Founder, continuo player/leader of “Concerto Italiano”, a leading vocal and instrumental ensemble of Italian Baroque performance, Alessandrini aims to bring out the expressive and cantabile elements inherent in Italian music “often elusive, expressive and cantabile elements” of 17th century Italian music, “the most fertile and innovative” of all periods, in his words. He conducts Italian Baroque opera, those including Händel’s Italian operas, reviving lesser-known operas of such composers as Cavalli and Vinci. Alessandrini’s award-winning CDs include “One Hundred Fifty Years of Italian Music” (harpsichord, organ) and, with “Concerto Italiano”, all of Monteverdi’s eight books of Madrigals.

Playing on an A. Dulcken two-manual harpsichord built by Klop (Holland), Alessandrini opened with the Ciaccona from the enigmatic composer Bernado Storace’s (c.1637-c.1707) only existing collection of pieces “Selva di varie compositione” (Venice, 1664). Virtuosic and dramatic, the artist lavished passion and intensity on the piece, surprising the listener with the occasional unexpected fleeting moment of different color and showing Storace’s varied agenda for what an ostinato bass can suggest. In strong contrast, we heard the artist in a poised, thoughtful reading of (Frescobaldi’s pupil) German composer J.J.Frohberger’s (1616-1667) “Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della…Fernando IV…”, as he took time to spell out the rich, varying, meditative fabric of the melancholic rhetoric in this heart-rending lament written on the sudden death of the Emperor’s 19-year-old son and embellishing it with opulent spreads.

Back in Italy, we heard dance music by Venetian harpsichordist, lutenist and organist Giovanni Picchi (1572-1643), also known as an established composer and performer of dance music. Although categorized as “low art” dances, his collection of idealized dances of 1621 actually represents the high point of Venetian keyboard dances of the time. Alessandrini’s vivid and majestic performance of them presented their sophisticated writing, interesting figuration and colorful, refreshing harmonies in the varied (also geographically) dance tunes set with mostly chordal accompaniments. Presenting each in different tempi and with some pleasing ornamentation, the artist never lost sight of the character of each dance and its origins. The first half of the concert ended with Alessandrini’s splendid and bold performance of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s (1583-1643) last work “Cento partite sopra passacaglia”, a somewhat approximate title for a continuum of passacaglias, chaconnes and one corrente. In a tireless stream of small pieces, the artist, with the determination and deftness of a quick-change artist, took the listener through the many keys, modes, metres and tempi of this giant dance suite, the more leisurely pieces dictating more freedom.

The second half of the program focused on works by J.S.Bach (1685-1750). Bach’s Concerto on D major BWV 972 is one of the several works of German and Italian composers the composer transcribed for harpsichord (and organ). Bach did more than adapting them for keyboard - he sometimes transposed them to different keys, added ornamentation, changing tempo markings and harmonies. He also stamped them with his personal style. The BWV 972 is modeled on Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins and continuo Op.3 no.9. Alessandrini took on board Bach’s virtuosic writing and predilection for the extraverted Italian concerto style, infusing the work with positive energy “nach italienischen Gusto”, his playing of the middle movement’s “Affekt” graced with Vivaldi’s original written-out embellishments touching and cantabile. Still in the Italian mind-set, we heard Bach’s early “Aria alla maniera italiana” BWV 989 (c.1709), a simple chorale-type (original) theme followed by ten virtuosic variations. Opening with a pleasing arioso touch, Alessandrini’s playing of the expressive theme and its flamboyant developments was contrasted, intense and rewarding. The program ended with another early Bach keyboard work (Bach was 19) – “Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilitissimo” BWV 992 - one theory being that the work was performed when Bach’s brother Johann Jacob left to become oboist in the army of Charles XII of Sweden. Alessandrini guided the listener through the tenderness, joy and melancholy, the key shifts, chromatics and complex fugues of the composer’s only programmatic instrumental piece.

Rinaldo Alessandrini’s interesting program presented a number of works not generally heard on the Israeli concert stage. Very much at home with virtuosic harpsichord repertoire, he is an artist for whom variety, articulacy and vibrancy come together in performance that is gregarious and focused. For his encore, the artist played a short, somewhat enigmatic original piece, allowing his playing to pause on the more emotionally charged chords of its melancholic, bluesy sound spectrum, to end unfinished.