Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Amaya Piano Trio at the Eden-Tamir Music Center (Jerusalem) in a concert of works of Sibelius, Schoenberg and Brahms

 The Amaya Piano Trio has recently performed a number of concerts in Israel. This writer attended their concert at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem on November 29th, 2014.  Established in 2011 by Israeli pianist Batia Murvitz and two Finnish musicians – violinist Lea Tuuri and ‘cellist Lauri Rantamoijanen – the Amaya Trio (taking its name for the Japanese word for “night Rain”) performs music from the Classical period to contemporary music. In February 2014, the three young artists premiered a work written for them by Finnish composer Jens Lindqvist. As well as appearing in Israel, the Amaya Trio has performed in prestigious venues in the UK, Finland, Cyprus, Austria and India.
The concert opened with Finnish composer Jan Sibelius’ (1865-1957) Piano Trio in C major “Lovisa”, this performance of it probably being the Israeli premiere of the work. Composed in 1888, this work, like most of the composer’s chamber music, receives too little attention in the concert hall. Sibelius was 23 when he composed the work for the family trio (the composer, his brother Christian and their sister Linda) in the summer at the family country home near the village of Lovisa, hence its title. It is the composer’s first foray into the fully Romantic style. The Amaya artists gave the opening Allegro a reading buoyant with energy and warmth, its flow of melodic ideas fresh. The Andante, more thoughtful and perhaps tinged with Nordic folk-like melody, was followed by the effervescent Allegro con brio, a movement daring in its tonalities and technical demands, proof of the young Sibelius’s fine sense of instrumentation. A work brimming with beauty and youthful optimism, it is relevant in both soundscape and landscape to the Amaya Trio.

Taking the audience into a very different mood, the Amaya Trio performed Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) “Verklärte Nacht” Opus 4. Originally written in a mere three weeks in 1899, and scored as a string sextet, it was arranged for piano trio by the Austrian-born pianist and composer Eduard Steuermann and only published as late as 1993! In 1898, Schoenberg had discovered modernist poet Richard Dehmel’s volume of poetry “Weib und Welt” (Woman and World). In “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night), a poem from this collection, and controversially sensual for its time, a man and woman meet at night in a chilled, moonlight grove; she confesses to her lover that she is carrying the child of another man. Following a long pause of brooding meditation, he resolves that their love will make the child their own. Referred to by the composer as the first programmatic chamber work, the single-movement piece was not merely inspired by the poem: its descriptive course remains exceedingly close to that of the poem in its late Romantic use of leitmotifs and transformations. Allowing time for each aspect of the text to form, the Amaya players paced the narrative strategically, creating a stark, otherworldly but active canvas, colored with heavy, foreboding tension, longing and Romantic sentiments, to end in idyllic tranquility. Harsh, intense utterances were tempered by plangent, languishing and tender moments, the players ever acutely aware of the textual thread at any given moment and of each other. Via a language at times tonal, at others, struggling to break free from tonality, they recreated Schoenberg’s agenda of “nature and human feelings”. Batia Murvitz brought out the unique timbre and emotion of the piano role (only present in the trio setting, not in the sextet) as the string players passed melodies back and forth in a performance that was evocative and intimate, richly expressive and dramatic, but never pushing the boundaries of good taste.

If this concert was to focus on works written by composers in their 20s, here was Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) first chamber composition – his Piano Trio in B major, opus 8. (Perhaps another important connection to the previous work performed is the fact that Schoenberg was deeply influenced by Brahms.) Published by the 21-year-old Brahms in 1854, he returned to revise it 35 years later and although he claimed not to have provided it “with a new wig, just combed and arranged its hair a little”, there were substantial changes in the revised version. One could therefore surmise that this work bears the stamp of both the young- and the mature composer, not to speak of reminders of the composer’s characteristically brooding spirit, despite the fact that the work is anchored in a major key. In 1890, Brahms, having played in the premiere of the revised trio, was satisfied with the result and the work was saved from the fate of other chamber works of his, which went into the fireplace! The Amaya Trio players gave a deeply involved reading of the work, from the lush and vigorous sweeping Allegro con brio movement, its smaller nuances addressed and shaped no less than its outbursts of passion, to the playful Scherzo, its poignant and dramatic moments played out with the surety of much eye contact. Then to the Adagio movement, its curious, frozen outer sections providing a hushed soundscape of choral-like piano timbres backing lengthy phrases in the strings, its reticent but emotional middle section warmer and earthier. For the Finale, the players took us back to the nervous Brahms-type of energy, drama and excitement, its tumultuous build-up ending with the message of a minor chord. The three artists explored the composer’s emotional palette, drawn by endless combinations of the three instruments, offering the audience at the Eden-Tamir Music Center a richly rewarding performance of one of the pillars of the piano trio repertoire.

The Amaya Piano Trio's choice of repertoire, consisting of works familiar to the listening public as well as those less familiar and new works, always makes for interesting listening. The players' individual gestures and nuances were picked up by the lively acoustic of the Eden-Tamir Music Center.

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