Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Three Pianists and Four Strings at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

Dima Pocitari,Dror Semmel,Nitzan Ben Canetty,Ron Trachtman,Gili Radian-Sade,Michael Zertsekel,Gal Nyska   Photo: Guy Sepak

One of the most unique ensembles in Israel is the three-piano combination of Dror Semmel, Michael Zertsekel and Ron Trachtman. Their latest performance “Three Pianos and Four Strings” took place to a full hall at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem (Jerusalem) on December 16th 2017. As the title implies, they were joined by a string quartet for this concert - violinists Dima Pocitari and Nitzan Ben Canetty, violist Gili Radian-Sade and ‘cellist Gal Nyska - all young, all soloists and all members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The concert opened with J.S.Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C-major BWV 1061, played by Ron Trachtman, Michael Zertsekel and the string quartet. Probably Bach’s only harpsichord concerto not originating as a transcription from other instruments, the first version was for two unaccompanied keyboards. The addition of orchestral parts would be assumed not to be that of Bach as the orchestra adds very little to the dialogue. Tension and contrast are essential to a concerto, but in this case the keyboard instruments play less "against" the orchestra than they do against each other in an antiphonal manner.  Discussion of playing a Bach concerto on historical instruments or not is irrelevant here...or is it?   Hearing it at the Eden-Tamir Center (and at close range) obliges any authentic movement purists in the audience to listen objectively and re-evaluate the flexibility of Bach’s music. What was rewarding in this performance was the fine, carefully-balanced and living sound, sensitive support on the part of the string-players and forthright, complementing and mirroring of the pianos, with bold and direct tutti moments always preserving a richly cushioned sound. Trachtman and Zertsekel gave the Adagio (2nd movement) a delicate reading, offering clarity of contrapuntal layers and some ornamentation.

W.A.Mozart’s Concerto in F-major K.242 (1776) was originally written for three pianos. It is sometimes referred to as the “Lodron” Concerto due to the fact that it was commissioned by Countess Antonia Lodron (hostess to Salzburg’s leading musical salon) to be played by her two daughters, Aloysia and Giuseppa. The part for the younger Giuseppa is less demanding. When Mozart himself eventually played this concerto in 1780, in one of his last public performances in Salzburg, he rearranged it for two pianos, a version that makes greater demands on the soloists. This was the version played by Semmel,Trachtman and the string quartet at the Ein Kerem concert. Although Alfred Einstein in his Mozart biography looks down his nose at “the purely galant Concerto”, there is no denying that at barely twenty years of age, Mozart was capable of writing a full-blown concerto. As opposed to the Bach C-major Concerto, the strings here indulge in much more melodic material. Semmel and Trachtman delighted the audience in their dialogue of precise, clean Classical fingerwork, their attention to each nuance and its transparency of sound never clouded by over-abundant use of the sustaining pedal. The performance reflected Mozart’s sunny temperament, his particular brand of humane, cantabile expression and the practice of creating small transitions.  Despite the lack of oboe- and horn timbres of Mozart’s scoring, the performance made for delightful listening.

Following the intermission,  the string quartet performed Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D-major op.20/4. Opus 20, Haydn’s six  “Sun” quartets, represents an unprecedented flowering of his string quartet writing, now straddling styles and ideas and drawing on the furthest reaches of his musical imagination. Led securely by Moldavian-born Dima Pocitari, the IPO players,  highlighted Haydn’s richness of ideas, temperament and contrasts of mood in incisive playing. The second movement was given an expressive reading, with Pocitari adding his own poignant personal touch on the repeat of the Adagio. The zesty, syncopated gypsy-style Minuet,  with its ‘cello solo, a testimony to  the composer's many excursions into the area of folk music, was followed by the virtuosity and pizzazz of the final Presto movement.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Concerto for Three Harpsichords and orchestra BWV 1603 in the key of D minor some time  between 1735 and 1745. It was only first published in 1846. As with almost all of J.S. Bach's harpsichord concertos, it has been speculated to be based on an existing concerto for a melodic instrument. However, the source for this concerto is still unknown. It is also said that Bach's sons may have been involved in the work’s composition, or at least in its performance. The artists at the Jerusalem concert were quick to draw the audience into the ebullient musical agenda of  the opening movement, their hearty playing of its wonderfully complex musical tapestry carefully delineated. Following the long, silken melodic lines of the  tranquil, chromatic Alla Siciliana, with the solo lines handed from one pianist to another, the demanding, the vibrant  Allegro had each pianist dueting with the ‘cello (Gal Nyska). Sensing the idea of camaraderie in such a performance, it was not difficult to imagine Bach and his  two eldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philip Emmanuel, in joyful domestic music-making.

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