A prominent figure in Estonia’s musical life, Imbi Tarum, a graduate of the Heino Eller Music School and the Tallinn Conservatory, wrote her doctorate on the treatment of harpsichord in works of Estonian composers. An ensemble player, Dr. Tarum has also played solo recitals throughout Europe. Since 1991, she has been teaching harpsichord and basso continuo at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. Her recital at the Israel Museum focused on French music, but it included one work by a contemporary Estonian composer. Imbi Tarum was in Israel some 25 years ago as a member of the Hortus Musicus Ensemble. Her 2015 visit included holding master classes at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and this recital, in which she played on David Shemer’s Skowroneck harpsichord.
Tarum performed two suites by J-Ch. Chambonnières (c.1602-1672), this music being influential repertoire, in the light of the fact that Chambonnières is considered the father of the French harpsichord school; his writing was also influential on music outside of France. A court musician (the first to hold the position of “the King's harpsichordist) he was also an exceptional dancer, in 1535, dancing alongside the young King Louis XIV and Lully. Tarum’s performance of the Suite in a-minor, boldly set out and rich in ornamentation, melodic narrative and harmonic interest, brought out the composer’s brilliant style of harpsichord writing. Her reading of the three movements she played from the Suite in F-major displayed the poetry, charm and tenderness projected through the dance forms in Chambonnière’s works.
A renowned teacher, Chambonnières was known to have taught such musicians as d’Anglebert, one of the Gautiers and all three Couperin brothers. In fact, at one stage of his career (and in the thick of court politics) there was a plot to force Chambonnières to resign as court harpsichordist in favor of his pupil Louis Couperin (c.1626-1661). Couperin, however, out of loyalty and high regard for his teacher, refused the post, accepting the job as treble viol player in the court. Imbi Tarum’s playing of Louis Couperin’s Suite in F-major combined stylish courtly elegance with imagination and spontaneity, again with much ornamentation, then taking a step away from aristocratic elegance to perform the Branle de Basque – a dance lighter of heart and heavier of foot. For the last movement of the suite, “Tombeau de Mr. de Blancrocher”, Tarum enlisted the music’s gestures and raison d'etre to spell out the text of this curious piece. A musical tribute to the lutenist Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher, who died in 1652 after having fallen down the stairs, it is thought by some that the downward leaps in the bass might de descriptive of the accident, with the use of the highest descant register possibly representing the lutenist’s ascent to heaven!
Well suited to Imbi Tarum’s technical prowess and temperament were three pieces from J.N.P.Royer’s (c.1700-1766) “Premier Livre de Pièces pour Clavecin” (1746). Born in Turin, Royer moved to Paris in 1725, working for the court, eventually becoming director of the Royal Opera orchestra. With Tarum taking the lead from the fact that Royer had an Italian soul and that he had set pieces from his own operas and ballets (many of them lost) for harpsichord, we were presented with some dramatic and colorful performance. In “L’Allemande”, taken from “Le pouvoir de l’amour” (The Power of Love) a ballet-héroique, the artist brought out its theatrical aspects, its tendency to the unpredictable and its timbral interest. “La Sensible” (The Sensitive One), beautifully shaped and gracefully melodic, yet still surprising in its arpeggiated middle section, was lyrical and tender. This was followed by “La Marche des Scythes” (March of the Scythes) a transcription from Royer’s opera “Zaïde”, a feisty, virtuosic and clamorous rondo, strange and daring, so interestingly orchestrated and so wonderfully entertaining!
I would have liked to have heard Imbi Tarum perform more Estonian music; what we did hear, however, was Rein Rannap’s “Variations”, commissioned by Tarum in 2007. Born in Tallinn in 1953, Rannap is a virtuoso pianist who has performed many of his own piano works. But he is also a rock musician, a jazz musician and bandleader; he has written and performed arrangements of Estonian folk songs, written his own songs, composed songs for children and written film music and stage music. “Variations” is a mood piece, a journey starting out meditatively in the lute register. An evocative vista linked in tonality, the piece investigates many aspects and moods of harpsichord sound as it takes the listener into the world of timbres and of the mind, the piece finding its way back to the lute register sound, ending with minimal sound fibres.
Imbi Tarum is an artist with rare expressive and technical ability. She has the knack of drawing her audience into the essence of each work; in her hands, the instrument becomes a dynamic, powerful and highly orchestrated medium. This recital was a treat - one of this season’s highlights.