Thursday, May 10, 2018

Trio Noga performs works of European composers and premieres a new Israeli work

Maggie Cole, Idit Shemer, Orit Messer-Jacobi (photo:Lilach Waise Engelrod)

Trio Noga - Idit Shemer flute, Orit Messer-Jacobi ’cello and Maggie Cole (USA/UK) piano - has just completed another concert tour of Israel. Together with people of many local communities and visitors to Jerusalem, this writer attended the event at St. John’s Chapel of the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City. Guests were welcomed by Prof.Hartmut Rohrmeyer, the Redeemer Church’s new director of music.


The concert opened with Joseph Haydn’s Piano trio in E-flat major H.XV:29, thought to have been written during one of the composer’s visits to London, to be performed in the drawing rooms and parlours of the elite English, venues which served as locales for his chamber music. One of three piano trios representing his last comments on the genre, Haydn dedicated the work to the highly-regarded London-based German pianist Therese Jansen Bartolozzi. A work especially challenging for the pianist, it becomes clear from the opening Poco Allegro movement that Haydn composed the trio with a solid knowledge of what the piano of his day could accomplish, with the flute here sharing some of the spotlight with the piano. Particularly enjoyable was Maggie Cole’s illumination of the piece’s improvisatory character. Following the artists’ rich, sympathetic reading of the tranquil Andantino ed innocentemente, a song-like vehicle for the piano (in the distant key of  B-major) with a stormy centre, the artists gave expression to each of the effervescent musical ideas of the Finale surging past in quick succession, with Cole presently slowing things down to take emotional stock before the tightly knit trio paid tribute to folk music, capitalising on vitality of spirit.


With Trio Noga’s interest in promoting contemporary Israeli music, we heard the world premiere of Irena Svetova’s “Venetian Drafts”. Present at the event, the composer spoke of the fact that everyone makes his acquaintance with Venice, a city with a complicated history, in his own personal way. She spoke of the five pieces making up the work as “reflections” rather than “visual images”. In the first piece, “Arrival in Venice”, the shimmering piano part invites long phrases from flute and ‘cello, together producing a splendid collage. “Roughness” is an imposing piece, somewhat daunting, its heavy piano footsteps and dark countenance then to be swept away by the gently lilting “Frozen Beauty”, its nevertheless solid anchor giving rise to light timbres, as evoked by flute and piano. “Abandoned Ghetto” starts out with flute and ‘cello playing in fifths, then sometimes in dialogue, at others in separate gestures, with minimal, spasmodic piano comments...a mood piece, approached sensitively by all three artists, its ponderous character also conveyed via generous amounts of the sustaining pedal. As the last movement “The Secret of Venice” draws to a close, its canvas a mosaic reminiscent of the former movements, we are left with just an echo of the musical vignettes whose soundscapes have fired the imagination. A fine piece of writing, Svetova’s new work, suggestive and appealing and not totally divorced from tonality, is subtle, appealing to the senses. Members of the Noga Trio gave it a profound and dedicated reading. Moscow-born Irena Svetova immigrated to Israel in 1991. Her oeuvre includes chamber music, choral- and orchestral music, music for theatre and for young musicians. Her works have been performed in Russia, Europe and Israel.


Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), a celebrated Austrian pianist and composer straddling the Classical- and Romantic periods, was a huge figure in his time. His Adagio, Variations and Rondo on a Russian Theme, Op 78, published in 1818, reflect his involvement with opera, of which he composed fifteen.  This charming work, in three movements, published in 1818, uses a sad Ukrainian folk song called 'Schõne Minka' (Pretty Minka). The Schõne Minka theme was very popular in Vienna around 1814, so much so that a competition was sponsored by a Viennese music publisher for the best set of variations on the theme. Several important composers entered the competition but it is not known who actually won.


Hummel’s work opens with a slow, cantabile introduction, leading to the Pretty Minka tune that becomes the source of a series of seven variations, each a new treatment of the theme. The variations alternate between major and minor tonalities. We are reminded that Hummel was one of the leading piano virtuosos of the day: the second variation is a virtual piano solo, and the third, fifth and last variations unleash pyrotechnic displays. In the sixth variation, the piano tremolo chords under the cello and flute melodies, evoking the sound of a dulcimer. A work of much charm and colour, Trio Noga’s performance of it was vivid and entertaining. It is to be hoped that Hummel’s works will be heard more on today’s concert platforms.


The concert concluded with two movements of French composer Jean Françaix’ Trio for Flute, ‘Cello, & Piano (1995). Not a familiar figure to many concert-goers here, Françaix (1912-1997) wrote more than 200 pieces, including operas and other works for the stage and for film; orchestral- and chamber works; instrumental solos, choruses and vocal solos; he also made orchestrations of pieces by French composers. Written when the composer was 85, the trio is, nevertheless, typical of Françaix’ style - transparent, fresh, defiant of bar-lines, jazzy at times, humorous and, of course, refreshingly French and transparent. The Noga players took and gave delight in the cheerful divertimento-like work’s effects and surprises, all well anchored within the composer’s masterful contrapuntal and harmonic skills. Of the illusive nature of his music, the composer himself wrote: “I wish to be honest: when I am composing, the finest theories are the last things that come to mind. My interest is not primarily attracted by the ‘motorways of thought’, but more the ‘paths through the woods’.


Trio Noga’s outstanding players offered a rich and varied musical program, also introducing each work to the audience. Not just a tranquil and beautiful venue for an evening of chamber music, St. John’s Chapel also has excellent acoustics.


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