Vokalquintett Berlin at the May 2012 Abu Gosh Festival (27.05.12)

On their way to attend a concert in one of Jerusalem's most magical venues, festival-goers to the May 2012 Abu Gosh Festival enter the tranquil, succulent garden of the historic Abu Gosh Crusader Benedictine Church. (…)

(…) The VB singers showed a good understanding of Monteverdi's expressive- and dramatic style and of the revolutionary declamatory style used in this Fifth Book of Madrigals. They made energetic use of consonants, choosing a steady pace, thus steering clear of over-sentimentality, but addressing dissonances, painting them into the mellifluous phrasing of Monteverdi's distinctive palette. Nathalie Siebert held the first soprano line throughout with outstanding competence and expressiveness, her rich, creamy voice pleasing. From the Fourth Book of Madrigals (1602), (…) we heard Sfogava con le stelle, telling of a lovesick man venting his grief to the stars; the ensemble gave expression to the longing, the despair and anger of the abandoned lover.

(…) Heinrich Schütz's (…) opus 1 Libro primo de Madrigali. These bold works (…) are rich in polyphony and boast exotic harmonies. Once again dealing with the agonies and ecstasies of love, Ride la primavera, Io moro and Di marmo siete voi (…) were evoked in all their richness of imagery and harmonic daring, VB's pleasing brightness of tone anchored in Seelig's rounded bass timbre. (…)


(…) In a style unmistakingly representing Gesualdo's extroverted musical tastes, his emotional extremes and mental torment, Vokalquintett Berlin performed Gesualdo's Io tacerò () and Mercè! grido piangendo (…). Never overstepping the bounds of good taste (…), the VB singers effectively presented the unpredictability and excesses of some of the most original and radical music of its time (…).


(…) Following the distresses and anxieties of love depicted in the works of Monteverdi, Schütz and the Gesualdo, the audience was offered relief in Orazio Vecchi's Gioite tutti (…) VB's treatment of it was delicate, its changing dance rhythms celebrating the season of love (…) In the poignant Il bianco e dolce cigno, with both its pathos and rapid parlando passages, the singers demonstrated Vecchi's interest in intense word painting, their vocal timbre remaining uncluttered.


The concert ended with some arrangements for vocal quintet by Amnon Seelig. These included the 1952 song That's Amore composed by Harry Warren together with Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke's Bella Notte (the latter featured in Walt Disney's movie Lady and the Tramp) in an arrangement suggesting the style of the Comedy Harmonists, Lennon and McCartney's I Will, the Brindisi (…) from Verdi's La Traviata and Amnon Seelig's refreshingly different setting of Naomi Shemer's Jerusalem of Gold. Seelig's arrangements are sophisticated, witty and understated and they bristle with interesting harmonic toning. (In one of the lighter numbers, alto Jonny Kreuter did a nice imitation of a muted trumpet). (…)


Following the concert, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Vokalquintett Berlin's tenor Martin Netter, with Amnon Seelig joining us later. Netter told me that (…) the VB has no leader; interpretation of works is achieved by way of discussion and experimentation; Amnon Seelig talked about each member bringing his or her expertise to the group. As the result of regular rehearsing, whether preparing for an imminent concert or not, the VB is working at developing its own signature sound, this forming from the rich mix of its members' musical tastes the various singing styles. When I mentioned the ensemble singing with a straight sound in the performance of early music, Netter stressed the importance of clear vowels and clear sounds in order to have a good blend of voices but mentioned the ensemble's very economical use of vibrato for the building of phrases and enrichment of key notes.


The festival audience enjoyed its trip to Splendid Italy. Vokalquintett Berlin's members show a profound understanding of the music they perform; their diction is articulate, as is their pronunciation. Their constant listening, their delicate and pleasing choral balance, blend and vocal color characterize the group's performance, but do not rule out individual musical personality. Vokalquintett Berlin's performance is fresh, polished and exciting.

Pamela Hickman (Jerusalem) in her concert critique blog, 27.05.12
(full text in English)
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