Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A classical Irish soirée at the American Colony Hotel (Jerusalem)

Rita Manning,Deidre Brenner,Tara Erraught (Petra Klose)
Marking St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), a classical Irish concert soirée took place on March 18th 2017 in the Pasha Room of the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem.  On their first visit here, the three artists – pianist Dierdre Brenner, mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and violinist Rita Manning – are Irish, all with international careers. Words of welcome were offered by Jonathan Conlon, representative of the Office of Ireland in Palestine. Addressing the international audience, which included members of the Irish Parliament and the diplomatic community, Mr. Conlon spoke of St. Patrick’s Day as when Irish people all over the world gather to celebrate Ireland and “Irishness”. He also thanked Ms. Petra Klose (K und K, Wien) for her organization of the concert.

The program opened with W.A.Mozart’s Sonata for piano and violin in E-minor, K.304 (1778), the only of the composer’s violin and piano sonatas written in a minor key; in keeping with most in the set published in Paris, it consists of two movements. Manning and Brenner gave intensity and expression to the work’s wistful mood. In the Tempo di Menuetto (2nd movement) also serious (a far cry from its light-hearted courtly ancestor) the artists’ small hesitations allowed for a feel of spontaneity, its splendid dolce E-major middle section played with charm and tranquillity. Then to Erraught and Brenner’s performance of Joseph Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice”, a single scene the composer set to the text from Metastasio’s libretto for “Antigono”. In her presentation of the work’s dramatic recitatives, short ariosos and a final powerful aria, Erraught gave a gripping and convincing portrayal of Berenice, overwhelmed and delirious in her desire to accompany her lover to the underworld. The various aspects of Berenice’s emotional plight were displayed not only in her strategic use of vocal colour but also in the singer’s body language.  Brenner’s piano accompaniment formed an integral part of the passionate and impactful performance.  The first section of the program concluded with Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Violons dans le soir” (1907) to a text by a young contemporary of the composer – Comtesse Anna de Noailles. The text describes the sobbing evening music of the violin as disturbing the calm of the natural world. In the quite different five short stanzas of this “mini-cantata”, Erraught, Brenner and Manning struck a fine balance, with voice and violin obbligato engaged in dialogue, the violin echoing (at times, uttering strident comments) as interaction between the two took on vivacity, the two alternating or joining to present independent agendas. Brenner ‘s attentive piano accompaniment was subtle and sensitive. A challenging work to perform, and one seldom heard here on the concert platform, the artists created its bewitching mood, offering a satisfying performance.

Following intermission, all the works the works performed were Irish, beginning with two movements of Charles Stanford’s Six Irish Fantasies, op.54. In addition to his time spent studying with German masters, honing his compositional art, Stanford had made contact with some of Europe’s greatest violinists. The Irish Fantasies display his skill at writing miniatures, but they were also composed as a response to the interest in Irish music at the time, this not just within Ireland. Manning and Brenner’s vigorous and wholehearted performance of “Caione”, a concert piece bristling with temperament, was followed by the Jig:  opening with the spirit of this Irish folk dance and with traditional fiddling, the piece deviates from the jolly dance to proceed as a set of variations, to return to the jig only in the coda. Fine solo fare not just for the violinist, Brenner’s playing of the piano part attested to Stanford’s own competence at the piano. In “Molly on the Shore”, Kreisler’s arrangement of a piece Percy Grainger wrote in 1907 featuring two authentic Irish reels, Brenner and Manning’s buoyant playing challenged some members of the audience to remain seated, as the artists tossed it off with the wink of an eye. This was followed by Tommy Laurence’s arrangement of “Danny Boy”, a version seasoned with some discretely different harmonies.

Then to Hamilton Harty’s settings of Irish texts for voice and piano. The first was “Sea Wrack”, (wrack meaning seaweed) to a poem of Moira O’Neill. With Brenner’s playing no less dedicated to the song’s content, Erraught re-created its tender narrative and resulting tragedy:
‘There' a fire low upon the rocks to burn the wrack to kelp,
There' a boat gone down upon the Moyle, an' sorra one to help!
Him beneath the salt sea, me upon the shore,
By sunlight or moonlight we'll lift the wrack no more.
The dark wrack,
The sea wrack,
The wrack may drift ashore.’
Set to a traditional Irish air from County Donegal and discovered by Herbert Hughes, “My Lagan Love” (The Lagan: an Irish river) presented Erraught’s warm, poignant rendition of the tender love-song and her rich palette of vocal colours, complemented by Harty’s poetic piano part.

Tara Erraught introduced the last bracket of songs as favourites of hers from a young age. Her gently droll performance of “The Stuttering Lovers” was followed by the rapt, captivating mood she inspired for “I will walk with my love” and the understated heartbreak almost whispered in “She moved thro’ the fair”. A fitting conclusion to the program was “The Leprechaun”, a song about the most important Irish fairy, the little imp dressed in green, of course!





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