Thursday, February 11, 2016

Notes from the 2016 Eilat Chamber Music Festival - three chamber music concerts

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Trio Wanderer (photo:Maxim Reider)
The 11th Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place at the Dan Eilat Hotel from February 3rd to 7th   2016. Azure skies, the sparkling indigo blue waves of the Red Sea - home to flotillas of small yachts - and the relaxed feel of Israel’s southernmost city welcomed the many festival-goers who attended the concerts taking place in the Tarshish Hall and the larger Big Blue Hall of the Dan Hotel.

“From Russia with Love” opened the festivities, with Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A-minor D821 “Arpeggione”, performed by Israeli ‘cellist Hillel Zori and Russian pianist Ivan Rudin: Zori gave poignant expression to the singing qualities, harmonic interest and contrasts of Schubert’s sound world, with Rudin giving the stage to Zori all the way. However, in three of Liszt’s “Transcendental Études”, Rudin wielded the piano with the authority of the lion tamer: his playing bristled with fantasy, dynamic variety, warmth and spontaneity, at times meditative, at others, vehement.  Rudin was then joined by young violinist Marianna Vasileva (Russia-Israel) in Robert Schumann’s Sonata for violin and piano No.1 in A-minor. The two young virtuoso artists took on board the work’s quicksilver fluctuations and temperament with playing that was both intense and lyrical, well nuanced, finely coordinated and flexible. Together with Ivan Rudin, François Salque (France), no new face to the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, performed Frédéric Chopin’s Sonata for ‘cello and piano in G-minor opus 65, a momentous work in that it was the last Chopin published and in which he himself performed; it also represents the composer’s struggle with the ‘cello-piano medium and probably with his separation from George Sand. The artists gave a vigorous, noble and carefully balanced reading of this autumnal work.

Concert no.4 was a recital by violinist Yossif Ivanov and pianist Alexander Gurning, two outstanding young Belgian artists, both members of the unconventional ensemble – Trilogy. Their transparent sound, delicately shaped phrases, incisive playing and off-beat sforzandi (3rd movement) of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata opus 12 no.1 in D-major made for a fine representation of the composer’s early- but already distinctive style. In Edvard Grieg’s Sonata no.3 in C-minor opus 45, the artists addressed the work’s darker colorings and intensity, its lyricism, subtlety and the work’s references to the composer’s national music. Then to Igor Stravinsky’s Divertimento for violin and piano (1928) based on his ballet music to “The Fairy’s Kiss” and constructed around some melodies of Tchaikovsky. Also tinted with folk music features, the work held the audience’s attention with its rich canvas of sweet melodies, rich harmonic variety, heavy ostinatos, its fantasy and unpredictable changes. The recital concluded with Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane”, in which both Ivanov and Gurning’s technical agility, fired by their own temperament and spontaneity, captured the composer’s interest in gypsy- and Hungarian culture.

For chamber music aficionados, Trio Wanderer’s performance was a reason to visit the 2016 festival. This was the second time the French trio has performed at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. All three players were graduates from the Paris Conservatoire before studying at the Bloomington School of Music and the Juilliard School. Today, violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian and ‘cellist Raphaël Pidoux have teaching posts at the Paris Conservatoire; Vincent Coq teaches at the Haute École de Musique, Lausanne. Joseph Haydn’s Trio in C-major Hob.XV:27 (1797) was a fine opener, with much fresh, positive and communicative playing and Classical elegance.  The first of a set of three trios, they were published as “Sonatas for the Pianoforte with Accompaniment of Violin and Violoncello”, showing where Haydn’s demands were (and they were well met by Vincent Coq), his range and writing for the keyboard pointing to the fact that it would have been played on a large English grand piano. In Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio no.2 in E-flat major, opus 100 D.929, the artists negotiated the appealing and majestic Allegro movement splendidly, with its Schubertian major-minor duality, to be followed by Pidoux’ sombre and meditative playing of the haunting ‘cello melody in the Andante movement. With tempos never achingly slow in any one movement, the artists stood back to present Schubert’s emotional world, its tensions and nostalgia relieved by good-natured lightness of texture as they attentively addressed each human gesture and mood. The concert ended with Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A-minor opus 50 (1882), a large-scale work on many levels, a work dedicated to the memory of Nicholas Rubenstein (brother of pianist and composer Anton Rubenstein) but also colored by Tchaikovsky’s own melancholic state of mind.  The artists gave expression to the composer’s intense emotionalism and melodiousness in the opening elegiac movement.  The simple folk-like theme (introduced by the piano) provided the subject for the eleven variations of the second movement, in which the trio presented each with its individual character – the Scherzo of Variation 3, the sweeping minor lines of Variation 4, the music box/drone effect of Variation 5, the elegant waltz of Variation 6, the contrapuntal interweaving of Variation 8, the Mazurka in Variation 10. Then, in the Finale, beginning with a jubilant variation, the artists take the listener back to the heavy-heartedness and mourning of the first movement, leaving the listener coming to grips with the intensely sad final layering of a tragic funeral march with the first movement theme, then fading and dying away. Trio Wanderer’s convincing and moving reading of the work left the audience in silence at its conclusion…laudation well earned by the superb performance of Trio Wanderer. For its encore, Trio Wanderer performed Ernest Bloch’s Nocturne no.2.