Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Yehezkel Braun: "Sharkiya" - Music for Plucked Instruments - recorded by Alon Sariel, Izhar Elias and Michael Tsalka

Michael Tsalka,Alon Sariel,Izhar Elias (photo:Sonja
“Sharkiya” – Music for Plucked Instruments, featuring music by Yehezkel Braun, is a disc recorded by Israeli artists Alon Sariel (mandolin), Michael Tsalka (harpsichord) and Dutch/Israeli guitarist Izhar Elias.

Born in Germany, Yehezkel Braun (1922-2014) immigrated to Palestine in 1924 with his parents. Musical styles he heard in his childhood, having a lasting influence on his writing, were opera, Yemenite- and Arabic songs and Hassidic tunes.  It was only when settling in Tel Aviv in 1951 that he completed his formal music studies at the Academy of Music, where he then taught music theory and composition until his retirement. He spoke of  the most significant music for him as an adult as being that of Haydn, Bartok, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel and Les Six. In the disc liner notes, Prof. Jehoash Hirshberg, co-author of “Yehezkel Braun, His Life and Works”, mentions that Braun “was very fond of plucked instruments”, composing many works for harp, santur, harpsichord and guitar.

“Sharkiya”, the title of the opening work on the disc, refers to the dry, hot eastern desert wind dominating the Mediterranean climate throughout the summer months. Composed in 1957 for mandolin, guitar and harpsichord, the work is representative of the search of European-born immigrant composers to Israel for a musical language expressive of the Middle Eastern environment. In this short modal piece, the artists give articulate expression to its melody-biased daring and vibrancy, its dancelike character, buoyant rhythmic combinations and silvery timbres. In Braun’s Sonata for Mandolin and Guitar (2004), Sariel and Elias are attentive, precise and responsive in their reading of the work, with its gamut of lush, imaginative harmonies, its constant rhythmic play, Braun’s free use of tonality (not without oriental touches) and of the piece’s many moods – from pensiveness and tender nostalgia to sheer energetic joy. Braun’s score is vivid, attractive, idiomatically written and challenging, pointing out that guitar and mandolin do not necessarily make for an “odd couple”.

Composed in 1995, Braun’s Partita for Guitar, Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi, refers to the Baroque suite in its line-up of movements, although the framework gives carte blanche to a work of extraordinary richness and variety of ideas. Reading into them, Izhar Elias’s playing is sensitive and imaginative, from his evocative, magical playing of the intimate Preludio, to the disquieting, somewhat Spanish-flavoured Toccata temporarily relieved by cascades of chords. Then to the gently stepping Air, a mood piece of exquisite harmonic development and singing melodies, to be followed by a Corrente, the latter’s intensity and terse agenda associative of Flamenco music, warming into lyricism before returning to its original textures. As to the Ciaconna, its variations and autumnal harmonies capture Elias’ (and the listener’s) imagination as he presents its kaleidoscope of moods – jazz-tainted, fragile and personal, haunting, skipping, forthright -  with natural ease and virtuosity; the recording picks up the guitar’s every nuance. Braun’s Partita constitutes a rich item of 20th century guitar repertoire.

The last work on the recording “Music for Plucked Instruments” (2002), taking its inspiration from J.S.Bach’s 3rd- and 5th Brandenburg Concertos and from the Concertos for Two and Three Harpsichords (promising a virtuosic role for the harpsichordist!),  is another splendid work. Its sophisticated and inventive score once again highlights Braun’s manifold harmonic imagination and his vigorous use of rhythm. And again, movement titles hark back to the composer’s deep involvement with Baroque style. With its scintillating textures, the opening Toccata, based on a small amount of basic material but richly orchestrated, is exciting and engaging, its breathless urgency temporarily alleviated by relaxed cadenza-like sections incrusted with glittering, filigree mandolin sounds. The Aria, bathed in a sense of well-being, and opening with a caressing folk-like melody, with the mandolin imitating the beguiling sound of the balalaika, is followed by a Giga – a mélange of tutti- and chamber sections, forthright gestures and those harking back to the gentle balalaika textures of the Aria. The Giga ends on a mischievous note.

Alon Sariel, Izhar Elias and Michael Tsalka, all busy with international solo- and ensemble careers, share an interest in both historic performance and contemporary music. They also commission new works for their instruments and for this unique ensemble. Recorded in Montisi, Italy in 2015 and distributed by IMI, “Sharkiya”, the trio’s second disc, presents the world’s first recording for plucked trio. Its lively sound quality does justice to Yehezkel Braun – one of Israel’s greatest composers – and to the outstanding musicianship of the three artists.

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