Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dror Semmel, Ron Trachtman and Michael Zartsekel perform Russian piano music at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

In the Eden-Tamir Music Center’s Piano Entertainment series, “A Russian Celebration” was performed by pianists Michael Zartsekel, Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman at the Ein Kerem venue on April 7th 2017.

Performing on three pianos, the artists opened with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Romance and Waltz in A-major, composed 1890/91 written to be played by the three Skalon sisters when the composer, in his late teens, was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory. It is thought that Natalia Skalon wrote the theme for the Waltz. Playing the pieces on one piano is entertaining to watch, but there was much to be said for playing them on three, with the artists presenting the works’ fine details, Romantic charm and fragility, creating true magic and with clarity.  Rachmaninoff’s love for Vera, the youngest of the sisters, might well have been the inspiration for the tenderness of the Romance.

Michael Zartsekel then performed two pieces from Tchaikovsky’s  “The Seasons” (1876), a set of 12 pieces relating to the 12 months of the year. The collection, published in instalments in the monthly musical-theatrical journal “Nuvellist”, would have been suited to the new Russian bourgeois lifestyle of the amateur home pianist, the works’ benchmark however being Tchaikovsky’s own solid pianistic ability. With each piece bearing a programmatic title, the pianist would draw inspiration from each of the various seasons in Russia; familiar to Zartsekel (b.1980, Rostov, Russia), this was a fine choice for him.  He opened with cantabile, personal and gently flexed playing of “June” (Barcarolle), its stormier central section only a temporary hiatus from its sweetly melancholic mood, then to continue with his pensive, moving reading of “October” (Autumn Song), its tristful melodiousness exquisitely shaped. Zartsekel also performed two of Rachmaninoff’s op.23 Preludes (1901-1903). His playing of the gently meandering Prelude in D-major op.23/4 offered the seamless weaving of gorgeous melodies with articulacy, his use of the sustaining pedal never blurring, as he guided the listener through the many keys of the essentially Romantic Rachmaninoff’s agenda.  The B-flat major prelude op.23/2, on the other hand, is all energy, representing Rachmaninoff the towering pianist. (His large hands were able to reach a twelfth on the keyboard.) Rich in lavish chords and runs, even the subdued middle section moves relentlessly forward, Zartsekel gave expression to its rich layering and joyousness.

The program also included Rachmaninoff’s two suites for two pianos. Of the two suites Dror Semmel writes that they "are among his best works and his writing for two pianos is absolutely remarkable. Truly amazing textures and sonorities. Not easy..." In No.1 (Fantasie-Tableaux) in G-minor for two pianos op.5 (1893), each tableau was inspired by a different poem. Ron Trachtman and Dror Semmel presented the scenes in a kaleidoscope of richly-coloured musical textures, not in a programmatic sense but certainly descriptive and alive with such effects as rippling water (Barcarolle), bird calls (The Night…the Love) and bells (Easter). The third movement – “Tears” -  never fails to amaze with its uniquely canonic play of teardrops, falling singly or cascading down.
‘Tears, human tears
You flow both early and late —
You flow unknown, you flow unseen
Inexhaustible, innumerable —
You flow like torrents of rain
In the depths of an autumn night.’ (Fyodor Tyutchev)

Trachtman and Semmel’s performance of “Easter” concluded the work with a vibrant, intense and festive canvas of large, powerful Russian Orthodox church bells, as “all the booming air rocks like the sea…” (Alexei Khomyakov).

Performed by Semmel and Zartsekel, we heard Suite No.2 in C-major for two pianos op.17, written by Rachmaninoff in 1901,  its forthright opening March was followed by the frolicsome Waltz, so interwoven in its two-piano texture that the two piano parts could hardly be distinguished by the ear…one was drawn to following it visually. Then to the Romance, lyrical and introspective, peppered with a more impassioned middle section. The concluding feisty Tarantella, with its driving rhythms contrasting with its refined passagework, was a true tour de force, demanding staggering virtuosity on the part of both artists.

The concert ended with all three pianists performing Michael Zartsekel’s arrangement of “The Great Gate of Kiev”, the dazzling conclusion to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Inspired by an architectural design for a gate in massive Russian style, the constructional project never saw the light of day. Scoring his arrangement for three pianos means that Zertsekel, using massive, muscular chords, large musical proportions and a good dose of sustaining pedal for Mussorgsky’s noble chordal melody and victorious tolling of bells, has his audience sitting at the edge of their seats as he evokes the grandness of the gate. For their encore, the artists performed Michael Zartsekel’s arrangement of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty”, bringing to an end a concert of outstanding performance.

Michael Zartsekel,Ron Trachtman,Dror Semmel (Shmuel Semmel)




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