Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Concert at the Austrian Hospice, Jerusalem, in memory of journalist Ari Rath

Ari Rath (photo: Jana Liptáková)

A concert in memory of Ari Rath was held at the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem on January 21st 2017. At short notice, alto Veronika Dünser (Austria) and pianist Eloïse Bella Kohn (France) put together a varied program of traditional- and classical music. Markus Bugnar, rector of the Austrian Hospice, for whom Ari Rath had been an influential figure, spoke of how important it was to host the concert at the Austrian Hospice. Ms. Petra Klose, director of K und K Wien, spoke of Ari Rath as a charming, generous man, someone who loved music, and the honour that it was for her to organize the concert.

Austrian-Israeli journalist and writer Ari Rath (1925-2017) was born in Vienna, arriving in Mandate Palestine at age 13. He became editor of the Jerusalem Post in 1975 and editor-in-chief in 1979. After leaving the newspaper in 1985, he worked as a freelance writer, taught at the University of Potsdam and was news editor for the on-line journal Partners for Peace. In 2005, he received a Special Prize in the British House of Lords from the International Council for Press and Broadcasting in recognition for his tireless work for rapprochement and peace. Ten years ago, Ari Rath returned to live in Vienna. He died there January 13th   2017 at age 92.

The program opened with three Jewish songs, first a somewhat formal reading of the traditional Hassidic melody “Y’varech’cha” (The Lord bless thee out of Zion). This was followed by a Yiddish song “Hobn mir a Nigendl” (We have a song) in which Veronika Dünser’s sensitive and flexible singing captured the mix of joy and sorrow of this genre. Then to a rich and emotional rendering of David Zehavi’s setting of “Eli, Eli”, a poem written in 1942 by young Hungarian resistance fighter Hannah Senesz:

‘My God, my God
May these never end…
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
The lightning of the heavens,
The prayer of man.’

We then heard Eloïse Bella Kohn’s performance of W.A.Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.8 in A-minor K.310, a work written in the early summer of 1778. Mozart, 22 at the time, was in Paris tending to his ailing mother. She would die there on July 3rd. If one considers the scarcity of minor keys in Mozart works (there is only one other piano sonata in the minor) it seems he reserved this mode for his most vehement outpourings. The A-minor sonata must have surely been the product of the composer’s dark mood of that time. Kohn did not “soft-pedal” in the opening Allegro maestoso, its drama and outbursts leaning more towards the frenzied and less to its “maestoso” marking. For the pensive Andante cantabile movement, now in the more tranquil setting of F-major, Kohn’s playing was nuanced and finely crafted, her use of textures adding to the beauty of this mood piece. The Presto takes artist and listener back to the setting of despair, its flashes of optimism swept aside by the sense of urgency pervading the movement.  Although heavy at times, Kohn’s playing of the sonata was as clean as it was brilliant. In a letter to his father, informing him of his mother’s death, Mozart wrote: “I have indeed wept and suffered enough – but what did it avail?” Here was a young contemporary artist connecting with the desperation of the young composer.

In a moodscape no less doleful, Dünser and Kohn performed “Das irdische Leben” (The Earthly Life) one of the 22 songs from Gustav Mahler’s collection “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Youth’s Magic Horn), poems taken from an anthology of over 700 German poems compiled and revised from 1805 to 1808 by two young, early Romantic poets – Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano.  With its archaic naivete, its German heritage and variety of texts, this collection was to become a major inspiration on the composer’s creative work. It would tie in with his love of folk poetry and music, his sense of fate and with his own eventual suffering from personal tragedy.  “Das irdische Leben” tells of a mother watching her child starve to death as he waits for her to finish baking bread. Dünser’s vocal and emotional resources made for a gripping, convincing and real interpretation of the song. Kohn, also delving into the text, highlighted the most subtle details of the generously furnished piano role.

The program concluded with songs from Johannes Brahms’ “Zigeunerlieder” (Gypsy Songs) Op.203. Composed in 1887 for vocal quartet and piano, Brahms published eight of the songs for solo voice and piano in 1889. The work represents an important episode of the composer’s life. He had accompanied Hungarian-born violinist Eduard Hoffmann on a concert tour, learning to play “alla zingara” - in the gypsy style. He had also studied the 1887 anthology of original gypsy melodies compiled by Zoltan Nagy. Brahms, however, used none of the authentic gypsy modes in the songs, although he does address rhythmic concerns of setting Hungarian texts to music, despite that fact that the songs had been translated from the Hungarian into German by Hugo Conrat. In splendid collaboration, Dünser and Kohn present small pictures of gypsy courtship, love and heartbreak, Dünser’s easeful and honeyed singing in all registers and musical- and facial expression revealing moments of passion, sorrow, light-heartedness, joy and disappointment. How poignant and bathed in warmth was “Lieber Gott, Du weiss” (Dear God, you know how often I have regretted) about a young woman’s cherished memory of her lover’s first kiss, to be followed by the carefree joy of “Brauner Bursche führt zum Tanze” (A swarthy lad leads his lovely blue-eyed lass to the dance) as a young man takes his girl to a dance.  In “Röslein dreie in der Reihe” (Three little red roses bloom side by side), opening with its delicate depiction of courtship, Dünser’s facial expression and vocal timbre then reveal an element of doubt as fear of remaining single creeps in. An experienced and attentive accompanist, Kohn collaborates with Dünser all the way, contending splendidly with Brahms’ full-blooded, almost orchestral piano settings.

The event was indeed a fitting tribute to Ari Rath, a man who loved Mozart and song.



No comments: