Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Millennium Ensemble presents a program of "Concerti" in the Eden-Tamir Center's 2011 Passover Festival

The Eden-Tamir Music Center in Ein Kerem (Jerusalem) hosted a Passover Festival of three concerts. “Concerti”, a noon concert on April 23rd 2011, was performed by the Eden-Tamir Center’s ensemble in residence – the Millennium Chamber Ensemble. Players at this concert were violinists Yevgenia Pikovsky, Eliakum Salzman and Elena Tishin, violists Dimitri Ratush and Vladislav Krasnov, ‘cellists Kirill Mihanovsky and Yefim Eisenstadt, double bass player Evgeny Shatsky and pianist Marianna Sorkin. The Millennium Chamber Ensemble was founded in 1997 by violinist Yevgenia Pikovsky, its players being immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The concert opened with Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings in D minor, soloists being Yevgenia Pikovsky and Marianna Sorkin. Composed in 1823, this concerto leaves no doubt as to the young Mendelssohn’s interest in virtuosity and melodic invention. Pikovsky’s Romantic and forthright solo playing in the opening Allegro, tying in with the movement’s technical demands, with its (characteristically Mendelssohn) fugal approach and intricacies, was spirited. Sorkin took a more understated approach. The soloists, however, conversed and communicated, Sorkin taking time to state the theme in the lyrical Adagio, its calm tempo never lagging. This was followed by the hearty flamboyance of the Allegro molto, peppered with brilliant passagework and effervescence. An ensemble exhibiting the accuracy and attention of long-standing collaboration, the non-soloists worked their lines in and around the solos, making for an exciting performance.

Developed in 1823 by Viennese luthier Johann Georg Staufer, the arpeggione, a bowed 6-stringed fretted instrument, similar to the guitar and with the same tuning, was not generally well received. It did, however, generate a small group of enthusiasts and players. One of these was Vincenz Schuster, for whom Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed his Sonata “Arpeggione” in 1824. (Schuster also published the only method for playing the instrument). The use of the arpeggione, however, was short-lived – a mere ten years. In fact, by the time the Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano (D821) was published in 1871, the instrument for which it had been composed was extinct. With the arpeggione role nowadays played on ‘cello or viola (I have heard it performed on clarinet) we heard veteran Israeli violist Ze’ev Steinberg’s (b.1918) arrangement of it for viola and strings. Soloist was violist Dimitri Ratush. The Millennium Ensemble preserved the chamber quality of the piece, bringing out its depth of expression, its underlying wistfulness ever present, its joy tinged with sadness, the players never allowing tempi to turn the work’s folksy melodies into vulgarity. For the “Arpeggione” was, indeed, written after Schubert’s physical and mental health had taken a turn for the worse. In a letter penned to his friend Leopold Kupelweiser some months before composing the “Arpeggione”, Schubert writes “I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world…a man…whose most brilliant hopes have come to nothing.” In the performance at the Eden-Tamir Center, Ratush leads and paces, he intertwines the virtuosity of Schubert’s text into the musical fabric, rather than using it as an end in itself, his playing giving expression to the poignancy, poetry and innate Schubertian humility of the sonata.

The concert ended with Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Variations on a Rococo Theme for ‘Cello and Strings opus 33. Composed in 1876 for Wilhelm Fitzhagen, principal ‘cellist of the Moscow Conservatory, the ‘cellist made some changes to the work – cutting out the introduction and eighth variation, shortening the coda and changing the order of variations, this version of the work being the accepted one till the Soviet edition of Tchaikovsky’s complete works in 1956. We heard ‘cellist Kirill Mihanovsky in the solo role. After stating the daintily charming and somewhat mischievous theme with the use of non-legato bowing and slight rubato, Mihanovsky proceeds to setting out the variations. He presents the character and mood of each, from the whimsical second variation, to the soulful third, to the flexed and virtuosic fourth. Fine, filigree lines are presented sensitively, as are broader gestures, each variation sounding freshly created, the artist’s bass note melodies richly colored and moving. The seventh variation, vibrant and urgent, whisking away introspective moments heard in the sixth, brought the work to a brilliant and joyful close. A little poorer for the lack of woodwind instruments, the artists, nevertheless, brought out the charm and grace of a work void of Tchaikovsky’s dark brooding. The audience delighted in the performance.

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