Monday, May 16, 2016

Yonah Zur and Dror Semmel perform sonatas for violin and piano at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Jerusalem

Bach-Brahms-Beethoven was the title of a concert in the Best of Chamber Music series which took place at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on May 14th 2016. The concert featured Yonah Zur-violin and Dror Semmel-piano. Prof. Alexander Tamir, director of the Eden-Tamir Center, opened with words on the three B’s, the traits they shared and their influence on music in general.

The recital opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Keyboard in E-major BWV 1016, one of the group of six written possibly when Bach was Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, a keen musician, who played both violin and harpsichord. As Bach referred to these sonatas as “trios for harpsichord and violin”, the keyboard parts are written out in full and not in the form of figured bass, as in earlier works, making them the first true obbligato sonatas. A sonata da chiesa in form, the opening Adagio of the E-major sonata prescribes the violin a highly soloistic role; Yonah Zur allowed the florid opening melody to unfold naturally, sensitively and in a myriad of shapes as he poignantly leant into the movement’s harmonically important notes. As of the second movement, a bright Allegro in the form of a three-part fugue, the trio sonata idea becomes more focal, with the artists combining individuality and teamwork with fine articulacy. Zur and Semmel’s playing of the passacaglia-type third movement was moving as they passed expressive melodic lines from one to the other, this leading into the final Allegro, to which they gave a vivid rendition, its effervescent moto perpetuum theme moving around the three voices. Their performance of the work was engaging and meticulously thought out.

The artists then performed Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.3 in D-minor opus 108. A work of great dynamic variety and sudden emotional contrasts, the artists sensitively addressed all aspects, from the mysterious, sombre moments and tragic outbursts of the first movement, to their finely coordinated rendering of the somewhat rapt, luxuriant and cantabile second movement. Then to the enigmatic third movement, both playful, lyrical and impassioned, ending with two winks of an eye, then to the unbridled, fiery Romantic Brahmsian sound world of the fourth movement, its agitato character temporarily punctuated by a touch of intimacy and reflection. The technical challenges for both instruments of Sonata No.3 were channelled into the work’s emotional agenda and never a focus of acrobatic display. Well received into the warm, lively acoustic shell of the Eden-Tamir hall, Semmel and Zur’s reading of the economically and deftly structured work was articulate, uncompromising and humanly real as they communicated in balanced partnership, one never overwhelming the other.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A-major opus 47 “Kreutzer”, composed in the spring of 1803, has a strange history to it. It was originally dedicated to George Bridgetower, a mulatto violin virtuoso, who performed its premiere brilliantly together with the composer (Bridgetower received the music the day before the concert). Later, there was a disagreement between the two and Beethoven decided to dedicate the sonata to French violinist Rudolph Kreutzer, who described the work as “outrageously unintelligible” and actually never performed it. In the composer’s words, the work was “written in a very concertante style, quasi concerto-like”. Beethoven was known for his pianistic ability, but he was also intimately familiar with the violin and, aware of the changes the violin was undergoing at the time, made demands accordingly. Performing the most difficult of Beethoven’s ten violin and piano sonatas, Zur and Semmel had listeners perched at the edges of their seats, no minor feat in a work whose every note is so familiar to chamber music lovers. Their playing of the opening movement was suspenseful, majestic, fresh and exciting, but also sensitive and tender, with each small gesture painstakingly crafted, their gentle flexing and each soupçon of a pause critical to Beethoven’s rich canvas of moods. Their playing of the Andante con variazione was tranquil, elegant and noble, the manner they set out of the different variations simply delightful and heart-warming. The work’s original sense of urgency returned with the Finale, the artists juggling its unsettled nature with upbeat, virtuosic buoyancy. Throughout the sonata, Semmel and Zur kept the audience aware of Beethoven’s writing for equal forces.

Dror Semmel returned to Israel after six years in New York, where he studied at Mannes College. completing a doctorate at Stony Brook University. Over recent years, he has been performing as a soloist with orchestras, in solo recitals, and chamber music in Israel, the USA and Europe. Future engagements include concerts in the USA, Italy and the Far East. Most of his recitals comprise German repertoire, over recent years including late Beethoven sonatas, late Schubert sonatas, Schubert’s “Winterreise” and Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Partitas. He and his pianist sister Shir Semmel perform as the Jerusalem Piano Duo. Dror Semmel teaches at the Israel Conservatory (Tel Aviv) and at the Jerusalem Conservatory, where he heads the piano department, is director of master classes and serves as juror for the Jerusalem Young Artists Competition.

Yonah Zur graduated from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, receiving a Masters degree from the Juilliard School of Music. He regularly performs throughout Israel, the USA and Europe as soloist and chamber musician, playing both traditional and contemporary repertoire, with special interest in music of Israeli composers. He has soloed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Contemporary Players and the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. Yonah Zur joined the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in 2011, serving as assistant principal violist; he recently joined the Carmel Quartet. Zur is on the faculty of the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Believing in the artist’s role in society, Yonah Zur has performed much in educational concerts; for the last six years, he has been leading concerts in schools throughout the greater Jerusalem area.


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