Opus Amadeus Festival concludes with baroque gems

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- The third edition of the Istanbul International Opus Amadeus Festival presented the Budapest-based Aura Musicale Ensemble for the 2014 festival’s final concert on April 11 in St. Antoine Church in BeyoIlu. The early music group, which uses period instruments, also featured bass-baritone Wolfgang Bankl as vocal soloist within their handsome collection of high-style Baroque cantatas, songs, concertos and sonatas by Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi, Heinrich Biber, J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach and selections from a 17th-century Hungarian codex.

The Opus Amadeus Festival, directed by its founder, Mehmet Mestçi, presented eight concerts in two Istanbul venues this season from March 2 to April 11, which encompassed a kaleidoscope of styles and a roster of international performers. “Unusual” is probably the key word this year as, for example, one of the concerts featured three pianists playing simultaneously on one piano. Another featured a world premiere of a new piece for harp, another for a trumpet and organ duo and two programs using authentic instruments of the Baroque era.

The Aura Musicale Ensemble of violinists Laszlo Paulik and Eva Posvanecz, harpsichordist Jeremy Joseph and cellist Balazs Máté, the group’s director, performed a selection of sonatas and concertos by Handel, Biber and Vivaldi. The Biber work, an entertaining solo violin concerto entitled “Representatio Avium,” contained bird calls, amusing frog sounds, rooster crows and a cat’s meow. Posvanecz had obvious fun putting across these special effects, along with Máté’s insertion of sheets of paper between his cello’s strings to simulate a snare drum in the final section, which describes musketeers marching. Máté’s strong leadership through exemplary basso continuo mastery was evident throughout the fine program.

Bankl’s contributions as a soloist in two Handel cantatas (the second, “Cuopre tal volte il cielo,” was the more interesting of the two, with its florid and athletic compass), added a potent and burnished voice to the mix. Although handicapped by the church’s swimmy acoustics, he projected secure musicianship in the arias and recitatives that required great flexibility and long legato phrases. In two songs by Purcell, he was less audible due to their transpositions to low keys, which were swallowed up in the nave’s acoustical black hole. Perhaps the most stunning vocal selection, and one that Bankl executed with finesse and alluring tone, was J.S. Bach’s “Amore traditore” cantata, whose exquisitely sinuous vocal line (suggesting a treacherous and capricious lover) and speedy fireworks in the final aria reached the height of beautifully stylized Baroque expression.

Another fine Baroque cellist, Rebecca Rosen, provided excellent basso continuo support throughout the Collegium Musicum den Haag’s concert on April 9, also in St. Antoine Church. The group also included block flutist Inês d’Avena, violinist Sara DeCorso and harpsichordist Claudio Barduco Ribeiro, who performed another fascinating lineup of scores by Telemann, J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Vivaldi and Couperin. The ensemble brought out the all the specific stylistic conventions as well as the quirky moments with winning expertise, especially Ribeiro’s astounding perpetual-motion playing in several scores.

In both concerts, the bathhouse acoustics of gigantic St. Antoine swallowed up most of the detail, nuance and audibility of these lighter-weight instruments. Without some necessary acoustical helpers, for example, wooden panels behind the performers, a wood platform under the harpsichord andor wooden risers to boost the visibility of the musicians, St. Antoine is simply not the right venue for Baroque chamber music.

French duo Leleu and Leroy delight in St. Antoine

What does work well in St. Antoine is trumpet and organ. Trumpeter Romain Leleu and organist Ghislain Leroy performed for Opus Amadeus’ March 31st concert from St. Antoine’s organ loft, where audibility is not a problem for these two instruments.

Their program of works by Baroque and pre-Baroque masters Telemann, Viviani, Caccini, J.S. Bach, Handel, 19th-century composers Franck and Mendelssohn and living composer Thierry Escaich was an enjoyable excursion through repertoire for organ and trumpet, particularly Escaich’s “Tanz Fantasie.” It’s a dramatic piece that is cleverly written for the trumpet’s complete range, starting with the lowest notes and making its way to the highest with terrific flair. Leleu’s own flair with this piece really sold it in a way that made it stand out considerably from the standard Baroque templates that surrounded it.

Of the earlier works, Giovanni Viviani’s mid-1600s “Sonata Prima” for trumpet and organ was a great example of the improvisational nature of music before the Baroque era codified musical structures. Leleu brought out the Italianate character and the almost-jazz nature of the musical lines. In Leleu’s version of the famous solo song “Amarilli mia bella” by Caccini, he channeled a singer with his expressive legato.

Leroy excelled in an organ solo arrangement of the overture to Mendelssohn’s “St. Paul” oratorio, which paid tribute to J.S. Bach through its knuckle-busting polyphony and ingenious harmonic twists. A thrilling crescendo in the middle took us to the glorious heights of the organ’s color capacity however, the registration required for a complicated piece like this (as well as Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in A minor,” which Leroy also played) revealed some serious problems with this instrument. As one of the very few pipe organs in Istanbul, this one especially should be properly maintained for concert use, as it would be a draw for international organists and the possibility of frequent organ concerts.

The duo’s memorable encore was Tomaso Albinoni’s “Adagio,” for which Leleu played a flugelhorn from the front of the church while Leroy remained at the organ console in the back. The stereo effect was as magical as Leleu’s remarkable sound on that instrument.

(CihanToday’s Zaman) C