Sunday, May 1, 2011

'Cellist Ithay Khen performs a solo recital at Jerusalem's Austrian Hospice

Israeli artist Ithay Khen performed a solo ‘cello recital April 25th 2011 in the salon of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in the Old City of Jerusalem. Born in Israel, Khen received his first ‘cello instruction from his father, at age 16 beginning studies with Professor Uzi Wiesel (Tel Aviv Academy of Music.) He continued his studies at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music (Berlin), has performed widely and is the recipient of scholarships and awards. Khen has played in chamber music with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, was solo ‘cellist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, later becoming first solo ‘cellist of the Nuremberg Opera.

J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Solo Violoncello Suites probably date from around 1720, from the time Bach served as Kapellmeister in the employ of Prince Leopold in Coethen. It is thought that the first four were written for Christian Ferdinand Abel, a bass viol player at Coethen or for Christian Bernhard Linigke, a ‘cellist, both players being friends and colleagues of J.S.Bach. Khen opened his recital with a performance of the Suite no.1 in G major BWV 1007. His reading of the opening Prelude was compelling and intense. His playing of the ensuing court dances leaned closer to the energetic than to the reflective, excepting for the Sarabande and the poignant second Minuet, which were, indeed, introspective, the repeats of the noble Sarabande graced with embellishments. Khen uses textures, pauses and gentle rubato to create clear phrasing and for expressive purposes. Beyond the technical, structural and textural complexities of the suite, the artist meets Bach’s challenge – to create his own interpretation in a spontaneous and personal manner.

Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966) was one of the last great composer-performers. A ‘cello student of fellow Catalonian Pablo Casals, he studied composition with Manuel de Falla and Maurice Ravel; his “dual” life was represented in the concerts he gave. He composed and arranged much music for ‘cello, also composing orchestral- and chamber works. (He is also known to have attributed some of his own compositions to other composers, such as Frescobaldi, Boccherini and Schubert!) Cassado’s Suite for ‘Cello Solo (c.1950) reflects his native heritage, his technical expertise and his knowledge of the instrument. Khen takes on board both the technical challenges and the multi-faceted character of the work – its lyrical sensuality, its allusions to oriental modes, to fiery Spanish music and dance as well as its reference to early music (he bases the second movement “Sardana-Danza” on a drone.) The artist performed the work, presenting its kaleidoscope of colors, moods and energy with aplomb.

Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, educator, linguist and philosopher Zoltan Kodaly’s (1882-1967) Sonata for Solo ‘Cello opus 8 is one of the major works to be written for solo ‘cello after J.S.Bach’s ‘Cello Suites. One of the composer’s most remarkable and frequently performed works, its formal three-movement simplicity is deceptive when considering its technical complexities. It is influenced by folksong and dance music Kodaly had heard on his field trips with Bartok. Indulging in the work’s variety of pizzicato interspersed with arco bowing, multiple stoppings, virtuosic runs, harmonics, its use of spiccato, strumming, etc., Khen conjures up the sonata’s temperament in its “dark and light” tonings, earthy melodies and its moments of languishing lyricism juxtaposed with its wild restlessness. One of those daunting works tempting the virtuoso player to grapple with it, Khen has, indeed, been tempted; he succeeds in mixing its rich cocktail of ideas with spirit and alacrity.

Having swept listeners off their feet with the performance of three mammoth and complex solo ‘cello works, Ithay Khen brings his audience down to earth with the tranquil, uncluttered melodic beauty of Jean-Louis Duport’s (1749-1819) Etude no.8 in D major. The Austrian Hospice hosts art exhibitions, concerts and lectures; its salon is a wonderful venue for a solo recital.

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