Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra plays an all-Schubert program

Concert no. 7 of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s Classical Series January 6th 2010at the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre was devoted to works by Franz Schubert. Conductor was Maestro Leon Botstein, the JSO’s musical director, with soloists soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir and pianist Bishara Haroni.

The program opened with Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Rosamunde Overture, D.644 (1820). Never actually performed at the two only performances of “Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus”, for which Schubert wrote the incidental music to Helmina von Chezy’s ill-fated third–rate play, the overture has survived as one of Schubert’s loveliest orchestral pieces. The JSO’s performance of it was warm-hearted and joyful, its contrasts and lush woodwind playing delighting the audience.

Of great interest were five Schubert Lieder with the piano parts arranged for orchestra. In his program notes, Maestro Botstein mentions “how much music adapts to different formats”… making “it speak in new ways to new audiences”. With the newly improved piano mechanism, Schubert was inspired to write piano parts to Lieder of unprecedented intensity and great difficulty, the dramatic results of which never cease to amaze and excite the listener. With some of the piano parts (I hesitate to call them “accompaniments”) sounding decidedly orchestral, the concept of orchestrating them was a logical one, actually beginning with Franz Schubert’s brother Ferdinand Schubert (1794-1859) orchestrating Erlkonig (The Earl King) in 1828. The orchestrated Lied meant more public performances (rather than those of the intimate “salon”), with the songs being performed by professional singers with heavier, more operatic voices. Some of the arrangements were actually commissioned by the singers themselves, wishing to perform Schubert Lieder at orchestral concerts and to larger audiences.

In this JSO concert, we heard the songs performed by Israeli-born soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, a singer who performs widely, her repertoire covering opera, Baroque- to contemporary works. In “Standchen”(Serenade) (words: Ludwig Rellstab), orchestrated by the Austrian conductor and composer Felix Mottl (1856-1911), light, lyrical instrumental textures imitated the lilting “plucked’ accompaniment, the harp adding touches of silvery gloss; there was a happy balance of voice and orchestra, not always evident in some of the other songs. Orchestrated by Max Reger, we heard “An die Musik” (To Music) to words by Franz von Schober, with elegant use of woodwinds gracing the small imitations. Rostorf-Zamir’s performance of “Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) also set by Reger, was compelling in its immediacy of the dramatic moment. Equally intense was her performance and involvement in of Franz Liszt’s setting of “Die junge Nonne” (The Young Nun) to the pietistic verses of Jakob Nikolaus, Liszt’s orchestral description of the physical- and inner storm creating a powerful canvas at the hands of Maestro Botstein. Liszt, a deeply literary man, was fascinated by Schubert’s alliance of music and poetry and this led him to orchestrating some 60 Schubert songs. In his setting of Goethe’s “Der Erlkonig” (The Earl King), Liszt alternates the magical sparkle of the harp, adding decorative figures of his own, with the relentless galloping of horses and urgency of the plot to power the dramatic episode; Ms. Rostorf-Zamir depicted the impending tragedy, portraying the three characters of it. Seldom heard in this country, these arrangements of Schubert Lieder made for fascinating listening. What they lose in intimacy in these settings, they gain in dramatic breadth. Rostorf-Zamir, ever attentive to the orchestra, gave an impressive and exciting performance. A real treat!

Schubert was 25 years old when he composed his Fantasie in C major, “Wanderer Fantasy” D.760, opus15, for solo piano in 1822. Composed in a grand, flamboyant style rarely used by the composer, the work, in four uninterrupted movements, is full of bravura but also presents a gamut of emotions. Written for and dedicated to a nobleman Emanuel Karl, Schubert himself remarked “The devil take it; I can’t play it”. Fascinated by Schubert’s use of form and thematic transformation, Franz Liszt arranged the essentially monothematic “Wanderer Fantasy” for piano and orchestra some time around 1850, adding almost nothing of his own. Pianist Bishara Haroni gave a well-crafted, competent reading of this highly challenging piece, bringing out its play of light and darkness, its anguish and hope. Haroni, born in Nazareth, enjoys an international career, playing with many orchestras, he plays solo recitals and chamber music. As his encore, Haroni performed Liszt’s “La Campanella”, the third of the six Grande Paganini Etudes. His skilful execution of this virtuosic piece was brilliant, varied and “orchestral”, its delicate, crystal moments reminding the listener of the piece’s title (Campanella means “little bell”.)

The program ended with Schubert’s Symphony no.9 in C major, D.944, The Great (1825-1826). Robert Schumann, having discovered the manuscript in Ferdinand Schubert’s possession, wrote to Clara Schumann claiming he had “found a symphony of heavenly length”. In contrast to many “grand” interpretations of the work, Botstein’s reading of it was fresh, free of the heaviness often heard in the opening movement, energetic and abounding in charm, yet still noble. Articulate melodic lines and fine wind-playing gave the performance color and expressiveness.

1 comment:

Classy said...

I must say I love your article about the movement of Lieder into orchestration: very interesting. I was thinking about this the other day when I bumped into a website that I'd never seen before, and heard the most marvellous singer I've heard in years. A young soprano from England, Jessica Leschnikoff is about to release some of Schumann's (Clara and Robert) most important Lieder, alongside Wagner's Wesendoncklieder. With a view to orchestrating lieder, Wagner's grouping of five songs in the Wesendonck is spoken of frequently as a study for his opera Tristan - in particular the third act quotes "Im Treibhaus" extensively. It is so true that sometimes one form of music melds itself to another in a completely natural manner...

But back to this unknown singer. Having been completely amazed by the beauty of singing, I did a bit of digging around, and found that she belongs to a fairly prominent Jewish ancestry - she writes a blog about her research. But no matter - this is definitely a singer that everyone should check out. Such a fabulous musician, and her pianist Daniel Grimwood is simply marvellous. Have a listen on
I sent her a message and got one straight back - it seems that the CD will be released in the Spring, and further snippets will appear on the site until then.