Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Alexander Trio in a Holocaust Day concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre

The Alexander Trio – Nitai Zori-violin, Ella Toovey-‘cello and Michal Tal-piano - performed at a Holocaust Day concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim on May 5th 2016. Formed in 2013, the trio is named in memory of violinist Alexander Tal (1932-2005), father of Michal Tal. Alexander Tal was among the most prominent Israeli musicians in the 1960s and early ‘70s, a founder of the New Israeli Quartet and the Israeli Chamber Ensemble.  The Alexander Trio performs at festivals in Israel and overseas, in the Felicja Blumental Centre concert series and records for the Voice of Music, Israeli radio. In addition to the large piano trio repertoire, the Alexander Trio performs works written for it, also collaborating with other artists.

The Holocaust Memorial Day concert opened with “Suite in Memoriam” (1947) for piano trio by Yitzhak Edel (1896-1973). Born in Poland to a Hassidic family, Edel spent two years in Russia, where he became acquainted with the work of the Society for Jewish Folk Music. Back in Warsaw in 1922, he engaged in music education (for three years, he taught at the Janusz Korczak Orphanage) and established the Company for Jewish Music.  Edel immigrated to Palestine in 1929, settling in Tel Aviv, where he taught, conducted choirs and composed. The Alexander Trio’s playing of “Suite in Memoriam”, a work which is rich in Jewish melodies and sentiment, brought out the vibrancy of Edel’s scoring with its sad undertones, giving its moving solos and duets personal expression.  Referring to the work he dedicated to the Polish victims of the Holocaust, Edel wrote: “I did not attempt here to express the terrible tragedy which took place in the 20th century in the heart of Europe. I attempted only to preserve the sounds inseparably bound to the spiritual life of millions of men, women and children who were cruelly slaughtered, suffocated and burnt by barbaric murderers for their only one and only unforgivable crime – that of being Jews”.

Born in Moravia, pianist, composer, writer and educator Gideon Klein (1919-1945) was a person of prodigious skills, writing music in a number of styles, composing some 25 works and writing song arrangements. In 1941, he was deported to Terezin, where he remained for three years. There he taught, performed, served as pianist for several opera productions and composed. Gideon Klein perished in Auschwitz. Until 1990, it was thought that the works Klein wrote prior to his internment were lost until a suitcase was found containing all the works he had written before the war, revealing experimental works composed in the most contemporary styles of the time. The manuscript of the Duo for violin and ‘cello (1941) was one of the works preserved in the suitcase; Klein had not managed to complete it. Ella Toovey and Nitai Zori gave a committed reading of the work, displaying the opening Allegro con fuoco movement’s intense, atonal moments reinforced with its bowed ‘cello tremolos, double stopping and pizzicato, interesting rhythmic shifts and clashing harmonies, then minimal moments in which the violin plays a ghostly melody and the enigmatic final major chord. In the Lento movement the artists, each instrument playing its own agenda, recreate the profound, convincing and soul-searching mood piece. The music then suddenly cuts out, poignantly symbolizing the premature termination of the composer’s life. Gideon Klein’s legacy has been preserved by several musicians, but primarily by his sister pianist and music educator Eliška Kleinová (1912-1999).

We then heard the violin and piano setting of “Kaddish” (the Jewish prayer for the dead, sung in Aramaic) the first of two pieces from Maurice Ravel’s “Deux mélodies hébraïques” composed in 1941 originally for voice and piano.  Zori’s masterly and finely crafted evocation of the melismatic, cantorial style had the audience following every nuance of the melodic and emotional course as Tal gave sensitive expression to the spare, marvellously coruscant utterances of Ravel’s piano text.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.2 in E-minor opus 67 was completed in the spring of 1944; its emotional agenda arises from both national- and personal tragedy. After several years of brutal war, Russia was emerging to realize the reality of the death camps and fate of the Jews. At this time, Shostakovich also lost his closest friend – music writer and linguist Ivan Sollertinsky. Bereft at the unexpected death at 42 of his “ideal friend”, “mentor” and “alter ego”, the composer dedicated the trio to his memory. Four days after Sollertinsky’s death, Shostakovich completed the first movement. The Alexander Trio gave a gripping and involved performance of the E-minor Trio, with attention to the fine detail of its unique motifs, to questions of balance and to the work’s almost unbroken intensity. From the bleak, ghostly and ever shocking opening of its main theme in muted ‘cello harmonics, to the pensive piano theme, to a sinister waltz, the artists showed the audience at the Music Centre through the work’s desolate soundscape. Following their frenetic playing of the brash, unrelenting, wild-natured and sarcastic second movement, the third movement opens with- and is dominated by fateful, crashing, fate-filled chords, the tragic, beautiful melodies played out by violin and ‘cello heartrending and moving. With its reference to former motifs and themes, we also hear new melodies in the fourth movement – Russian folk melodies and a Jewish tune -  with Zori’s strident violin comments set against powerful ‘cello utterances and expressive piano melodies.  And there is much to be expressed in the opus 67; the Alexander Trio’s playing of it was profound on all levels, perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but more than rewarding. Shostakovich’s interest in Jewish music goes back earlier than 1944. He wrote:” It seems I comprehend what distinguishes the Jewish melos. A cheerful melody is built…on sad intonations…” The characteristic combination of tragedy and cheer, of irony, beauty and despair of Jewish music is also present in Shostakovich’s music and nowhere more pointedly than in the E-minor Trio.


No comments: