Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Batia Murvitz, Igal Levin and Laura Albers perform trios and duos at the Brigham Young University, Jerusalem

Laura Albers,Batia Murvitz,Igal Levin (photo:Nadav Horesh)

Two members of Ensemble Colláge Tel Aviv -  pianist Batia Murvitz and clarinettist Igal Levin – hosted violinist Laura Albers (USA) at a Sunday Evening Classics concert at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Brigham Young (Mormon) University, Mount of Olives, on April 9th 2017.

Opening the program of European music spanning the 18th to 20th centuries, the artists performed Darius Milhaud’s Suite for violin, clarinet and piano op.157b. The trio’s playing of the light, playful Ouverture set the scene with bold gestures, its hints of jazz- and Latin styles making for an altogether colourful and hearty performance. Following the Divertissement, in which violin and clarinet begin in imitative dialogue without the piano, with all three then engaging in the delicate dovetailing of its polyphonic strands, the third movement – Jeu (Game) – played by clarinet and violin, resorts to a hearty folk melody, with Albers’ easeful and convincing playing evoking the style of traditional fiddling and Levin’s agenda also suggesting strumming, folksy elements. The opening tutti of the final movement, with its unsmiling, substantial piano chords, whisks away any memory of the jocular Jeu, only to quickly give way to light-hearted music, peppered with Milhaud’s characteristic jazz-flavoured polytonal writing and small harmonic jests, to end with the wink of an eye. Composed in Paris in 1932, the work, showcasing the composer’s adept incorporating of instrumental colours, his theatrical blend of styles and ideas, was given a delightfully entertaining performance.

Then to the wistful mood of W.A.Mozart’s Sonata for piano and violin in E-minor K.304 (from his time in Paris, which ended with his mother’s death), its dramatic intensity signalling the 22-year-old composer’s emotional upheaval. From its piano-and-violin unison opening, Albers and Murvitz’ playing was incisive, intense at times, at others – tender, it was dynamic and well-shaped. Based on attentive listening, their rendering of the work constituted a feast of eloquent, melodic playing, textures, balance, articulacy and expressiveness. With Albers’ cantabile melodious sound and Murvitz’ discreet use of flexing and of the sustaining pedal, their playing was rewarding, the work’s soul-searching message delivered with subtlety.

In 1849, a year for Robert Schumann of many new works, also the publication of “Album for the Young” and of an increased income as a result, the composer wrote: “I have never been busier or happier with my work”. One of the chamber works seeing light that year was his Three Romances for oboe and piano op.94, which he presented to his wife Clara as a Christmas present. He also published versions of it for violin or clarinet (and it can be heard on the’ cello and horn). In fact, the Three Romances were first performed at the Schumann home with Joseph Joachim on violin with Clara at the piano. Introducing it at the Jerusalem concert, Levin spoke of the work as indicative of the “Romantic, international language”. He and Murvitz both initiated and intertwined Schumann’s sweeping melodic lines in the first expressly tranquil piece, in the second marked “Einfach, innig” (Simple, ardently), the middle section – urgent rather than stormy – was comfortably placed between the two honeyed outer sections. Moving together in the outer sections of the third, the central section saw the artists tossing ideas to each other in friendly banter, then allowing for small hesitations to lead them to the end of the work. A work focusing less on virtuosity than on profound expressiveness, playing its long, meandering phrases makes great demands on the wind player’s breath control. Igal Levin’s tone is supple and vibrant and his performance gave credit to the clarinet’s larger dynamic range than that of the oboe, although, by nature, the clarinet’s tone quality will always be less plaintive than that of the oboe. Murvitz’ playing was vigilant and sensitive.

Concluding the concert on a very “different note”, the trio played the Suite from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale”. The work, based on a Russian folk tale, a collaboration between Stravinsky and Swiss writer C.-F. Ramuz, was referred to by the composer as a work “to be read, played and danced”. Its original scoring calls for two dancers, three speaking parts and seven instruments. The Suite for piano, violin and clarinet was first performed in Lausanne in November 1919, long before the work in its original setting for seven instruments was performed publicly.  To put the audience at the Mormon University into the picture, Igal Levin recounted the story – of a deserting soldier possessing a magic violin, which he trades with the devil, who promises to grant him his every wish. One wish is winning the hand of the king’s daughter. Throughout the story, the devil proves to be a cunning and tricky protagonist. The artists’ playing of the Suite opened with “The Soldier’s March”, a parody on militarism, vivacious and feisty in its cynicism, followed by the typically Stravinsky repetitiveness of “The Soldier’s Violin”. Taut, seamless and unrelenting, “The Little Concert” was presented boldly in its vivid and defiant idiom, as it constantly shifted between atonal textures and modality, to be followed by the “Tango-Waltz-Ragtime”, with the artists displaying Stravinsky’s somewhat disturbing distortions of them. Altogether, their outstanding- and carefully detailed performance enquired into the dry, acerbic agenda of the work, whose text (and the musical motifs threaded throughout) concludes with a few tough home truths:

You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.

Giving their all to the triumphant, jeering and diabolical “Devil’s Dance”, Albers, Levin and Murvitz ended their recital, one of chamber music of the highest standard. 



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