Friday, May 2, 2008

Youth at the Jerusalem Music Centre

The sixth concert of this season’s Youth at the Centre series featured four very fine young musicians: pianist Batia Murvitz, violinist Yoo-Jin Cho, violist Lotem Beider and cellist Yoni Gotlibovitch. Batia Murvitz began her piano studies in Tel Aviv, has studied with Pnina Salzmann and Menachem Pressler, and has performed in Israel, England, Australia, Thailand and Vietnam. Yoo-Jin Cho, born in South Korea in 1985, has been living, studying and performing in the USA from age 16. She is also a violist. Lotem Beider began studying the violin at age three and took up the viola when she was ten. She has been involved in performing Israeli works. Yonatan Gotlibovitch is first cellist of the Tel Aviv Soloists and plays in other ensembles. He is involved in performing contemporary music and teaches cello at the Barenboim-Said School in Nazareth.

The concert opened with Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) Piano Quartet in E flat Major, opus 47. Begun in October 1842, Schumann completed it within a month. There are thematic links between movements. The first movement begins with a static, non-thematic introduction, breaking into a full and contrapuntal sonata form of highly contrasted themes. Schumann defies convention and has a Scherzo with two trios for his second movement, rather than the third. In the second trio, the piano “destroys” the barline with heavy chords on the third beat of the bar, imitated and reinforced by the stringed instruments. In the third movement, marked Andante cantabile, the cellist tunes his C string down to a B flat in order to play a B flat pedal bass. The piano accompanies at first, later playing a more linear role. With the return of the first section, the melody is played in the viola. The Finale opens with bold chords followed by fugual type entries. There are small contrasting sections. The quartet’s performance reached far beyond technical the demands on all players: there was much individual expression, lyricism, drama and a powerful, embracing sound. Above all, there was attention to the most delicate nuances and to ever-changing layering.

We were privileged to be present at the premiering of Ori Ben Yossef Talmon’s “Forest of Secondary Trees”. Coincidentally or not, this first performance was on Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of trees and plants! Born in Israel in 1974, and a graduate in Composition of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, Talmon chooses to refrain from explaining the idea of “secondary trees”, giving each listener freedom to interpret the work personally. It opens with chords played by the piano and a sense of mystery. The piece consists of many small sections, divided by rests. Using tiny motifs, the composer contrasts tranquil moments with jagged and menacing moments, with pizzicato outbursts, eventually building up tension. An interesting mix of string and piano timbres was produced at phrase ends by holding down the piano’s sustaining pedal. The work ends tranquilly. The players were coordinated and gave this small and capricious work a convincing and devoted reading.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) began writing his Piano Quartet no. 3 in c minor opus 60 in about 1855; it was, however, published only in 1875. It represents a difficult time in the composer’s life: his good friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, had become ill and died in a mental asylum in 1856. Brahms was in love with Schumann’s widow, pianist and composer Clara Schumann. Brahms’ frustration at the impossibility of their love almost certainly tempered the mood of this quartet. In a letter to his publisher years later, Brahms himself drew a parallel between the music and the young Werther (according to Goethe’s novel of 1774) who takes his life because of his love for an older women. The quartet’s first movement is very dramatic, both vehement and soul-searching. The four young players showed understanding and maturity in dealing with the heaviness and introspection that pervades the movement. There were wonderful piano (soft) moments, sensitively timed. The second movement, a Scherzo (with no trio) was given a sense of urgency and performed brilliantly. A very strange and disquieting, recurring rhythmic motif in it was outlined well. The third movement, Andante, opens with a beautifully singing and sorrowful cello and piano duo. The other two instruments join, adding a second theme. The smallest nuances were well shaped. It is a movement of lightness. The fourth movement is one of fury and pain. There are melodic references to the Andante movement. Running piano figurations continue for most of the movement, supporting both melodies. This last movement is a complex collage of motifs and emotion.

The quartet presented an ambitious program. Their performance was not only polished: it was the result of a profound reading into the complexities of the chamber music of the Romantic period.

Youth at the Centre, Concert no. 6
Batia Murvitz-piano
Yoo-Jin Cho-violin
Lotem Beider-viola
Yoni Gotlibocith-cello
The Jerusalem Music Centre, Yemin Moshe
January 22, 2008

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