Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Elisabeth Plank (Austria) performs a solo harp recital at the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

Elisabeth Plank (photo:Theresa Pewal)
Opening the new season’s American Colony Concert Series, we heard Austrian harpist Elisabeth Plank in  “L’ARPA NOTTURNA” a solo recital on November 29th 2017 at the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem. Addressing the audience of local and overseas guests, Ms. Plank introduced each of the works and spoke a little about the harp itself. As to its repertoire, the selection of works on the program - from the Baroque to the 20th century - was quite an eye-opener regarding the range of solo pieces available to the instrument. Needless to say, not all were originally written for the instrument. Elisabeth Plank takes much interest in contemporary works, regularly collaborating with young composers, some of whom  have dedicated works to her.

The program opened with Gabriel Fauré’s Impromptu No.6 in D-flat major (1904) , possibly the most famous classical work for solo harp. For those in the audience fearing an evening of insipid tinkling angelic sounds, it was clear from the first notes of the piece that this was not the case at all. Plank created a canvas of many timbres ranging from almost orchestral-sounding tutti to faraway dreamy utterances, her playing bristling with virtuosic competence and clean melodic lines, expressiveness and fantasy. No less demanding was French harpist Henriette Renié’s (1875-1956) “Legende”, a substantial programmatic work, inspired by the poem "Les Elfes" by the French poet Charles-Marie-Rene Leconte de Lisle. Plank’s playing, giving life to the work’s cadenza passages, exploitation of tonality, complex rhythms and textures, was evocative of the knight riding through a forest, of the dialogue, of a dance of gnomes, of impending doom and, finally, the chill of heart when the knight meets his bride in the form of a ghost. Another work with programmatic content was Paul Hindemith’s Sonate für Harfe (1939) It seems what Hindemith wanted to convey in the 1st movement was that of standing in a European plaza in front of a large church or cathedral and hearing the organ play. Plank creates it in a rich multi-layered soundscape of majestic, modal utterances. To create the picture of children playing in the same plaza (2nd movement) we hear  the harp's capacity for quick filigree and lightness of texture. The last movement was inspired by a nostalgic poem by the 19th century poet Hölty - a dying harpist's last wish: that, after his death, his harp be placed behind the church altar as a memorial, where "im Abendrot" (at sunset) it would sound, seemingly of its own accord. Plank’s playing of this bitter-sweet movement leaves the listener deep in his own thoughts.

The Arioso from Heinz Holliger’s “Praeludium, Arioso und Passacaglia” (1987) is a small piece with a strong personality, its contrapuntal web and short statements punctuated by abrupt, finger-shredding chords. Plank’s playing of it shows that virtuosity and terse content do not rule out expressiveness.Then to another composition of the same period - Ami Maayani’s “Maqamat” (1984). Born in Israel, Maaayani is known for his compositions for harp. Many of his works are based on local traditional Jewish and Arabic music. Elisabeth Plank created the composer’s rich oriental mood piece - a vibrant weave of homophonic sections, octave melodies, melodies overlaying distant background sonorities, clusters and moments almost orchestral in concept. Playing it by heart gave Plank’s playing a sense of freedom and spontaneity.

The program included two arrangements. Henriette Renie’s transcription of Liszt’s piano piece “Le rossignol” (The Nightingale) is well suited to the harp, with its nostalgic Russian melody and plaintive bird calls all emerging in Plank’s sensitive and artistically shaped rendition. Domenico Scarlatti’s tranquil harpsichord Sonata in A-major K.208 was played with simple charm and flexibility. As the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska is known to have said: "When we hear Scarlatti's music, we know that we are in the climate of sunlight and warmth. It is Italy, it is Spain." Elisabeth Plank sent the audience home with the exquisite melodious warmth of Schubert’s “Serenade”.

Born in Vienna in 1991, Elisabeth Plank has won prizes in competitions in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan and is active on the international concert scene. She made her solo debut at the Vienna Konzerthaus at age 17, making her orchestral debut in 2006 with Handel’s Harp Concerto at the Hofburgkapella (Vienna). This was her first Jerusalem recital. She delighted the audience gathered in the Pasha Room of the American Colony Hotel with her versatility and good taste in a program of great variety and colour. Ms. Petra Klose of K und K Wien, the company bringing artists to the American Colony Concert Series, was present at the event.


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