Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Israel Chamber Orchestra, hosting the great Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze, closes its 2015-2016 concert season with "Feminine Strength"

Pianist Eliso Virsaladze (

The Israel Chamber Orchestra closed its 10th Classical Series with “Feminine Strength”, conducted by the ICO’s musical director Ariel Zuckermann; soloists were pianist Eliso Virsaladze and mezzo-soprano Avital Dery. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on July 20th, 2016.

The program opened with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in F-major Wq 183/3, one of the “Hamburg Sinfonias” probably composed in 1773. Here C.P.E.Bach, J.S.Bach’s second (surviving) son, has augmented the string section (and harpsichord - Ethan Schmeisser) with flutes, oboes, horns and bassoon, creating a kind of “sinfonia concertante”.  Zuckermann presented the work in all its idiosyncratic shifts of mood and dynamics, rhythmic twists and unexpected solos and duets, in keeping with the composer’s unconventional signature style and the language of the “Sturm und Drang” (the latter influenced by the fact that C.P.E.Bach preferred the company of literati and intellectuals to that of musicians). From the suspenseful first movement, to the mournful, counterpoint-laden Larghetto and ending with the jaunty rondo of the Presto with its comic horn interjections, the ICO gave a crisp, attentive performance of what constituted a fine aperitif to the evening’s musical program.

 We then heard Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor opus 54 with soloist Eliso Virsaladse (b. 1942, Tbilisi, Georgia). With the first movement composed in 1841 as a Fantasie for his new wife Clara, Schumann added the other movements to form the A-minor Piano Concerto in 1845, his only work of that genre, again with Clara in mind. Delighted, Clara wrote in her diary that she was getting a “big bravura piece”. Schumann, however, insisted he was incapable of writing “for the virtuoso”; his writing, therefore, lays emphasis on structural unity and thematic connection. Clara Schumann would go on to premiere the work in Leipzig on New Year’s Day of 1846, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Ferdinand Hiller, to whom the work was dedicated. The work, however, does include some very challenging passagework, but, true to the composer’s intentions, Virsaladse, performing in Israel after a hiatus of 17 years, put the concerto’s virtuositic aspect to the service of its strategically-wrought symphonic structure. In the impulsive, dramatic opening Allegro affettuoso movement, her full-blooded, slightly flexed playing gave the music a spontaneous feel as she both soloed and blended with the orchestra, the wistful oboe theme dominating the movement, with the exchange between piano and clarinet so poignant. Virsaladze then showed the listener through the cadenza with its mix of counterpoint, feisty chords, conflict and Schumannesque musings. Following her poetic, unmannered reading of the lyrical Intermezzo: Andante grazioso, in which she engaged in eloquent dialogue with the orchestra, the Allegro vivace was a kaleidoscope of melodies and ideas, with never a note lost in the profile of each piano utterance. Eliso Virsaladze’s playing was intelligent and balanced, but also rich in inspiration, warmth, good taste and colour. One of today’s greatest pianists, Sviatoslav Richter has referred to Professor Virsaladze, who today teaches at the Moscow Conservatory and in Florence, as “an unforgettable Schumannist…Can one imagine a more beautiful Schumann?”

Josef Bardanashvili (b.1948, Balumi, Georgia) immigrated to Israel in 1995. The recipient of many prizes and awards, his oeuvre consists of more than 80 works, including four operas, music for dance, symphonies and concertos, vocal music, music for solo instruments, also music for 45 films and for 55 theatre pieces. “Yearning” for female voice and orchestra (1999), based on prayer texts and poetry, is typical of the composer’s candid, spiritual and vehement personal form of expression. It opens with a morning prayer taken from the first tractate of the Talmud:
‘My God-
The soul that You have given me is pure.
You created me. You formed it. You breathed it into me;
You keep my body and soul together.
One day You will take my soul from me…’
Mezzo-soprano Avital Dery lured the listener into the involved, conflicted and challenging world of devotional belief and conviction. In her profound enquiry into the work’s meaning and theatrical dimension, she played out the drama of the soul, addressing the various texts and gestures with dedication and articulacy, alternating their intensity with tenderness, eyeing- and and involving the audience. Dery was a fine choice for the role. Familiar to many concert-goers as a performer of early music, she is a versatile artist with impressive vocal- and expressive command. Bardanashvili’s soundscape is vibrant in timbral colour, offering beauty, imagination and interest, as his compositional style straddles the boundaries between the tonal and the atonal. The characteristic nostalgia of Eastern European Jewish music brings the work to a close. The composer was present at the concert.

If C.P.E.Bach’s F-major Symphony was the evening’s aperitif, Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 in A-minor opus 90 “Italian” was certainly a zesty “chaser”, its freshness and self-assertiveness, inspired by the Italian people, their landscape and visual arts, making it one of the composer’s most popular works. How curious it is that it was performed only twice in Mendelssohn’s lifetime and not published until 1851, four years after his death. Zuckermann and his players conveyed the energy and exhilaration Mendelssohn had found in the southern climate of Italy with a performance that was forthright, joyful and buoyant. The Andante con moto, prompted by the sight of a procession of monks in Rome, “their pious, meditative gait and pious aspect”, in Mendelssohn’s words, was a soupçon of hints, musings and gentle solemnity.   We were entertained by the symphony’s dance-suggestive themes and its clear-cut dances – an old-fashioned minuet, a saltarello –  but no less by the contrapuntal play of the final movement, a reminder of how visual orchestral music is! The Italian Symphony is a celebration of  wind instruments and the ICO did not disappoint. The Israel Chamber Orchestra signed out of its 2015-2016 season with vitality and a sense of well-being.

Israeli conductor Ariel Zuckermann (b.1973, Tel Aviv) made his name as a flautist before moving to the conductor’s podium. He studied flute in Munich with Paul Meisen and András Adorján, later with Alain Marion and Aurèle Nicolet and conducting with Jorma Panula (Royal Music Academy, Stokholm) and Bruno Weil (Musikhochschule, Munich).  Completing the Georgian thread running throughout this concert, Maestro Zuckermann was appointed music director of the renowned Georgian Chamber Orchestra in 2007. One of the most sought-after conductors of the younger generation,  he has a busy, international career in conducting. He also tours with his own ensemble “Kolsimcha”-The World Quintet,  an ensemble focusing mainly on Klezmer music. Maestro Zuckermann took over direction of the Israel Chamber Orchestra in 2015.


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