Monday, February 18, 2019

Notes from the 2019 Eilat Chamber Music Festival; artists from France, the UK, Armenia, Holland, Finland, Israel

Jan-Paul Roozeman, Jonathan Roozeman (photo: Maxim Reider)
Opening the 2019 Eilat Chamber Music Festival at the Dan Eilat Hotel on February 6th, the Elias Quartet (UK) offered those seeing in the festival a chamber music concert with a couple of differences. A daring gesture In the world of authentic early music performance and period instruments, the players - Sara Bitiloch, Donald Grant-violins, Simone van der Giessen-viola and Marie Bitiloch-’cello - chose to start with two of Henry Purcell’s Fantazias - Z739 and Z741. Written at a time when viols had largely given way to violins, their inspiration coming from Matthew Locke’s fantasias, Purcell specified that the Fantazias be played on viols. Limiting their use of vibrato, the Elias players (on modern instruments) showed a real understanding of the genre, giving expression to Purcell’s masterful use of contrapuntal devices, tension and dissonance, as each section carried a change of mood. With their strategic use of small pauses, the Elias Quartet’s reading of the Fantazias was moving and unmannered, at the same time both restrained and free. Sandwiched between the two less conventional outer works of the program was Robert Schumann’s String Quartet No.1/1 in A-minor, the Elias Quartet’s rendition of it intelligent and fresh, with attention to detail, gestures and emotions and energy addressed and rewarding, perhaps not  with quite the heart-on-sleeve urgency of Schumann writing all three of the Op.41 Quartets within just two months as a birthday gift to his beloved wife. The last item of the program related to Scottish folk music, a tradition in which Donald Grant is steeped from much exposure to it, having grown up in the Scottish Highlands. The quartet played Grant’s delicate arrangements of several very old tunes and some of his own original- but typically Scottish melodies, some with drones (bagpipes) and also early fiddle technique. Especially fascinating was the 400-year-old practice of “puirt à beul” (mouth music), sung at parties for people to dance to where there were no instruments; Grant’s singing of these “patter” songs was as unassuming as it was agile, evoking the ambience of a social gathering rather than the concert hall.


The Busch Trio (UK) - Omri Epstein-piano, Mathieu van Bellen-violin, Ori Epstein-’cello - performed on February 7th. Formed in London in 2012, the trio began its 2019 Eilat Festival concert with Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio in C-major Hob.XV:27, the artists' sparkling, warm and buoyant performance enquiring into the playful-, the serious- and the emotional aspects of the work, their musical teamwork probing the subtleties of the relationships between the parts. A work showcasing the pianist and the piano itself, Omri Epstein’s playing was totally engaging, his approach sensitive, his use of the sustaining pedal indeed generous. This was followed by a very different take on the same tonality - Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio No.2 in C-major - in which the artists affectionately captured the work’s wealth of textures, emotion and complexity of the instrumental weave. In their moving and wonderfully crafted playing, the artists presented Brahms’ inner world of yearning and tenderness, the composer’s distinctive seriousness never far from the surface and ever ready to pervade the scene. And to Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio No.4 in E-minor Op.90, B166 ”Dumky”, a performance bounteous in contrasts, the charm and lushness of Bohemian folk melodies as well as some splendidly pensive and fragile moments. In playing tending to elegance and subtlety, never muscular or overloaded, we were treated to delectable tutti, but also to some highly expressive solos and duets. Formed in 20112, the Busch Trio plumbs the depths of meaning of the piano trio repertoire, presenting it with young energy, sensibilité, emotional honesty and refinement.


“Tzigane”, a morning concert on February 8th, featured violinist David Grimal (France), no new face to the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, this time, however, performing with pianist Grigor Asmaryan (Armenia/Germany) who was making his Israeli concert debut. Referring to the theme of the program, Grimal said: “I wanted to combine works connecting with that of George Enescu, such as the César Franck... Of course, if you combine it [Enescu] with Franck’s Sonata in A major and Ravel’s ‘Tzigane’ you have this Romantic- and gypsy side of music...French, Hungarian and Romanian.” The artists chose to open with César Franck’s Sonata in A-major for violin and piano, spelling out the mysterious, gentle nostalgia of the first movement, to burgeon into intensity and grandeur in the Allegro (second) movement. Throughout the work, the artists’ virtuosity served the work’s stiff technical demands, but predominantly its musical agenda, its “orchestrated” aspects, its many moods, its wistful moments and its empathy, all incorporated into playing telling of spontaneity, beauty of tone and seamless collaboration. Grimal has referred to George Enescu’s Sonata No.3 for violin and piano as “music inspired by the composer’s own country and by French music, also bordering on the style of gypsy music.”  Enescu’s careful wording of the work’s subtitle “In the character of Romanian folk music” endorses this. Creating a new and different language of violin expression, Enescu’s score bristles with extremely detailed instructions; his writing for the piano is no less than daring.  Asmaryan and Grimal gave expression to the work’s wealth of musical ideas - its use of oriental-sounding scales, bi-tonality, its large, uncompromising soundscapes versus otherworldly flageolet textures, but also to its references to simple, bucolic dances. The colourful, evocative canvas gave rise to much individual expression on the part of both artists, their magical bowing out of each movement luring the listener into lingering on momentarily in the aura of the music. The program concluded with a work deeply imbedded in Hungarian Gypsy folklore and music - Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane” - dedicated to- and inspired by Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi, an artist of decidedly psychic disposition, with whom Ravel consulted in the course of its composition. His letter penned to her read: “You have inspired me to write a short piece of diabolical difficulty, conjuring up the Hungary of my dreams. Since it will be for violin, why don’t I call it Tzigane?”  Whether its origins lie in musical satire or not, the piece is written in true violin idiom, despite the fact that the composer had never played the violin. Opening with the violin alone, playing lento in a lengthy introduction similar to a cadenza or free fantasia and ending with trills in double stops, Grimal presented the audience with a kaleidoscope of violin techniques and textures. Asmaryan’s entry of arpeggiated utterances had a decidedly mollifying effect on the music’s weave, the piano role constituting a graphic imitation of the cymbalum, a native Hungarian instrument (actually, a harp on its side played by tiny hammers.) Ravel’s “showpiece à la hongroise” (in his own words), no stumbling block to Grimal and Asmaryan, constituted a fine festival Konzertstück to round off the recital. For their encores, the artists then played three works of charming melodiousness - Ferenc Vecsey: “Valse Triste”, Moritz Moszkowski: “Guitarre” and Manuel Ponce: “Estrellita” - referred to by Grimal as “some sweets”.


“Arpeggione”, the morning concert on February 9th was performed by Finnish-born brothers Jonathan Roozeman-’cello and Jan-Paul Roozeman-piano. They opened their recital with Luigi Boccherini’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano in A-major G.4, an early work of the composer (who was actually one of the best-known ‘cellists of his time). The Sonata is a cross between the late Baroque- and galant styles. Clear and concise, it includes many embellishments but, unlike Baroque composers, Boccherini uses the higher range of the ‘cello and some very fast arpeggiations. Claude Debussy’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano in D-minor (1915) was to have been one of six instrumental sonatas the composer had intended to write for various instruments; only three were completed at the time of his death. In its experimental writing, abounding with surprising interjections, short bursts of accented notes, sudden tempo changes, tonal- and non-tonal language and in its unconventional effects in ‘cello writing, the Roozeman brothers presented the work in a spontaneous, expressive and captivating light, as a composition of startling modernist originality, but also reflecting the composer faced with his own mortality. As to the perplexing Sérénade movement, referring to the Sonata’s original title based on Albert Giraud’s poem “Pierrot Lunaire”, (a puppet character from the commedia dell’arte), the artists highlighted its strange, perplexing, detached playfulness before launching into the Finale with its inexhaustible array of instrumental effects. Paying tribute to the country of their birth, the Roozeman brothers performed two short works of Jean Sibelius - the elegiac, contented and appealing Romance in C-major Op.42 (1904), followed by Malinconia for ‘Cello and Piano Op.20 (1900), whose tragic mood reflects the composer’s grief at losing his daughter to typhus. Engaging in its virtuosity and complexity, the artists gave poignant and intense expression to the work’s dark agenda, albeit punctuated by the occasional ray of light, but then to end with the ‘cello reaching down into the profundity of its range with tense trills as the piano plunged into its deepest register. The recital concluded with the duo's playing of Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata in A-minor D.821 (arr: Dobrinka Tabakova). The artists took into consideration the gentle timbre of the short-lived arpeggione - a fretted, six-stringed instrument of strings resonating sympathetically, also referred to at the time as a "bowed guitar". The work also reflects Schubert’s fragility at the outset of his fatal illness. Engaging in its challenges, its tender melodiousness and sparkling virtuosic passages, the Roozeman brothers did not present the Arpeggione as a showpiece, rather, engaging in its warm cantabile expression, its exhilarating and playful aspects and its underlying seriousness, as they graced their playing with subtle flexing and meaningful transitions. For their encore, Jonathan and Jan-Paul Roozeman played Niccolò Paganini’s “Variations on One String on a Theme by Rossini”, the perfect show-capper, the audience revelled in its challenges and vigour!

David Grimal, Grigor Asmaryan (photo: Lior Friedman)


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Three concerts - 2 viols and harpsichord - will take place in early February to celebrate Myrna Herzog's newly restored Lewis viol

Shlomo Moyal with Myrna Herzog (photo: Merav Moyal)
Dr Myrna Herzog’s two 17th century Lewis viols, bought in the space of 15 years, will  join in performance for the first time ever, following a long and almost-tragic saga. One, which had remained in Brazil, was severely damaged on an Alitalia flight some time ago. The scandalous occurrence made news worldwide. But there is a happy end to this tale. Over recent months, the instrument has undergone total restoration by Israeli luthier Shlomo Moyal. In Herzog’s words: “While I was considering to whom to give the instrument for such a vital restoration, Shlomo Moyal was highly recommended by friends whom I trust, among them one who is also a luthier. I then paid Shlomo a visit, saw the very high level of craftsmanship in the instruments he has made and in his restorations, and was convinced that the job could not be in better hands. And I was right. The result is AWESOME.”

To celebrate the instrument’s return to life and voice, the Israeli early music community will be able to join Myrna Herzog and Gio Sthel (Brazil/Germany) in recitals they will perform on the Edward Lewis viols, together with harpsichordist Marina Minkin. The concerts will present works of Forqueray, Corelli, Rameau, Schaffrath, Jenkins, Smorgonskaya and other composers.

 Wednesday 6th of February at 20:30
The Israel Conservatory of Music (Stricker), 25 Louis Marshall St., Tel Aviv
Reservations: 03-5466228

 Friday 8th of February at 12:00
The Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem
Reservations: 02-641-4250

Saturday 9th of February at 20:30 
The Studio, Beit Hecht, 142 HaNassi St., Central Carmel, Haifa
Reservations: 04-836-3804




Saturday, January 19, 2019

The upcoming Eilat Chamber Music Festival (February 6th to 9th) promises four days of high-quality performance

Russian violinist/countertenor/conductor Dmitry Sinkovsky (Marco Regrave)

On January 17th 2019, the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv hosted a press conference on the upcoming Eilat Chamber Music Festival (February 6th-9th) Gilli Alon-Bitton (Carousel Artists Management and PR) opened the meeting, showing a few short film clips - enough to whet one’s appetite for four days of good music in the sunny winter city.  First to address us was Yossi Chen of the Eilat Tourism Corporation. He talked about developments in Eilat - the new Ilan & Assaf Ramon Airport, improvements made to the promenade, about a campus for Law and Architecture studies, the planned international sport campus and the fact that the New York Times has graded Eilat as the sixth best vacationing resort in the world! This year, the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, one of the country’s finest, will be part of Eilat’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Since taking on the festival, the Dan Eilat Hotel, he added, has been offering hospitality of the highest standard!


Mr. Ronen Nissenbaum, the Dan Hotels' new President and CEO, will be celebrating his second Eilat Chamber Music Festival. With the Dan Hotels engaging in many cultural events, he is proud they are hosts of the “Partnership with Art” project. He promises guests many good surprises and much enjoyment - fine hospitality and good food, and reminded those present of the various accommodation-concert packages offered by the Dan Eilat for the festival. He concluded by mentioning Leonid Rozenberg’s experience and familiarity with Eilat.


Leonid Rozenberg, the Eilat Chamber Music Festival’s founder and musical director, spoke of the city’s long-standing support of the festival, referring to it as a mix of culture and vacation and singling out the Dan Hotels as “our family”, with outstanding hospitality offered by Dan Eilat Hotel’s manager Mr. Lior Mucznik and all the hotel workers. As to this year’s concerts, Rozenberg mentioned that family relations were an integral theme of the program, from members of the Elias Quartet (UK), to members of the Busch Trio (UK), to Russian violinist/countertenor/conductor Dmitry Sinkovsky’s wife performing with his ensemble, to the Jussen Brothers (duo-pianists, Holland), ‘cellist Jonathan Roozeman (Finland) and his pianist brother and to Israeli soprano Claire Meghnagi’s performance with Koby Aflalo, her brother-in-law. Rozenberg referred to this year’s festival as one of the most varied till now and that the concert of the three teenage pianists hailing from Moscow was sure to be a great attraction to guests. He also spoke of a unique performance featuring PA'dam’s singers and instrumentalists (Holland) in a new arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, adding that actor Dov Glickman (who shared a few informal words with the people at the press conference) would be accompanying it with readings from Bach’s own pen. And for those night owls wishing to hear high quality lighter music, there will be such events as a performance by London duo Koby Israelite and Annique and even a classical jam session!


The press conference ended with a glimpse into the final event of the festival - “The House of Bernarda Alba”,  a story of depression, money and love, based on a play by the Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca. Introduced by Michal Natan of the Compas Dance Company, two dancers gave tender, expressive performances of Javier Latorre’s choreography set to a variety of musical styles.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Octopus, the Israel Pianists Quartet, performs works from Norway, Russia, Czechia, Hungary and a new Israeli work at the Mormon University, Jerusalem

Meir Wiesel,Ifat Zaidel,Tavor Gochman,Bart Berman (photo:Maxim Reider)
“40 Fingers around the World” was an apt title for the latest concert of Octopus - Israel Pianists Quartet - at the Sunday Evening Classics series of the Jerusalem Center for Far Eastern Studies on January 13th, 2019. Featuring four pianists playing on two pianos, Octopus was founded in 2013. Its eight hands are those of Ifat Zaidel, Bart Berman, Tavor Gochman and Meir Wiesel. Certainly a rare combination, the ensemble’s players are of diverse ages, hailing from Holland, Morocco and Israel. Much of their repertoire consists of arrangements; however, some new works have been written for the ensemble by Yosef Bardanashvili, Eran Ashkenazi, Naama Perel, Tzvi Avni and their own Meir Wiesel. Octopus will be performing at the Novi Sad Festival (Serbia) in July 2019.

The artists opened with a magical, picturesque reading of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1 Op.46, as arranged by Adolf Ruthardt. Their delicate, evocative rendition of “Morning Mood” presented Grieg’s description of sunrise over the Moroccan desert, its melody singing over long-held, static bass notes and unfolding mysteriously. Following the artists’ buoyant and incisive playing of “Anitra’s Dance”, with its seductive melody and playful chromaticism, their rendition of  “The Death of Ase”, majestic yet intimate, ascribed  Peer Gynt’s mother more respect than did Gynt himself! Then to the underground palace “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and its dark caverns, its grotesque, hopping course and richly dissonant music becoming more and more menacing as it grew in volume and drama to an epic finale.

The piano arrangement of Alexander Glazunov’s orchestral fantasy “The Sea” Op.28 (1889) was penned by the composer himself, actually creating the vast seascape in no-less impressive dimensions than the orchestral version. The Octopus players’ descriptive presentation of the work, now decidedly pianistic, had the audience perched at the edge of their seats. Its rich agenda of nature’s moods, from squalls soaring to dramatic, tumultuous proportions, to moments of almost visual brightness and of restored serene tranquility, called forth the many facets of the sea, its beauty and its power. Glazunov’s own attached program, read by Wiesel, explains that the work depicts what is seen by a man looking out from the shore over a vast seascape; Glazunov adds his own personal message, claiming that  "everything the man had seen and all that he had felt in his soul, he recounted later to other men."

And to the world premiere of Meir Wiesel’s programmatic one poem “Ostinaton”, dedicated to fellow musician Bart Berman on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Wiesel set the scene with his eloquent narration of the work’s agenda: “Imagine you are walking in space. Everything is quiet, but, from time to time, interruptions occur. Aton, the Egyptian god of the sun, is watching you…” In an eerie, otherworldly manner, the chordal work evokes the person’s steps in chords some of a tonal nature, some with added dissonances, the ever-present steps occasionally diverting from rhythmic regularity, at others, punctuated by disturbing, grotesque comments (strange creatures?) or echoes. It’s quite a journey! Wiesel’s work creates a unique atmosphere, both beguiling and disturbing, as he takes the listener on a walk through infinity.

Back on terra firma, to Anton Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance in E-minor Op.46 No.2. Before orchestrating his two sets of Slavonic Dances, they were written as piano duets (one piano), indeed remunerative for both composer and publisher. The Slavonic Dances were arranged for eight hands by German music editor Robert Keller, who worked for the N.Simrock music publisher.  In dealing with his own native idiom, Dvořák did not use existing folk tunes in his dances, but created his own themes in the authentic style of Eastern European traditional  music, creating superb, idealized examples of their genres. The E-minor Slavonic Dance, in the form of a Ukrainian dumka, was performed with moments of lyricism and nostalgic yearning alternating with hearty, carefree sections. An infectious and  beautifully crafted performance. Remaining in Eastern Europe, Octopus concluded its world tour with a hearty Konzertstück - Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.9, also known as “Carnival in Pest”; this, like the work before it, has also undergone a number of transcriptions, from  the original piano version, to a version for orchestra and for piano duet. Meeting Emil Kronke’s setting of it for eight hands at eye level, the players gave vivid expression to the work’s various tableaux, its Hungarian dances, its personal moments and its marvellously extravagant finale.

A fitting encore for their Jerusalem concert, the Octopus pianists performed Bart Barman’s artistic and sensitive arrangement of “Jerusalem of Gold” (Naomi Shemer), with its subtle  sprinkling of harmonic caprices. This was followed by their bold, zesty and high-spirited  playing of Aram Khachaturian’s  “Sabre Dance”. With its repertoire of various styles, the Israel Pianists Ensemble has much to offer its audiences, but it is the close collaboration of its members and their addressing of music’s smallest details that produce the quartet’s distinctive transparency- and beauty of sound.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A European Gathering: Gabriela Galván and Isidoro Roitman perform Baroque music for flute and lute at the Harmony Cultural Center, Jerusalem

Gabriela Galván, Isidoro Roitman (photo: Alejandro Held)
A concert of European salon music from 1700 and on was the bill for “Tertulias Europeas”, performed by Embouchure – Argentinean early music specialists  Gabriela Galván (Baroque flute) and Isidoro Roitman (lute) at the Harmony Cultural Center, Jerusalem, on January 9th 2019. Embouchure focuses on exploring the rich repertoire of sonatas for traverso and basso continuo of the 17th and 18th centuries. Isidoro Roitman spoke of all the works on the program as the genre written for leisure activity, music played in the home by people who knew how to dance and who played musical instruments. In fact, the Spanish word “tertulias” can refer to a social gathering or a regular informal gathering.


The whirlwind European tour began in Rome with Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata Op.10 No.5 in F-major. Corelli published his only set of violin sonatas, Opus 5, on January 1st, 1700; they are arguably the finest and most influential ever assembled. Written in the Italianate style of his time, in its most polished and classic form, they became regarded as the hallmark of a musician’s skill and musicianship. In fact, all other Baroque sonatas can be defined as being pre- or post-Corelli. Existing as only a bass line and the unadorned violin part, with no harmonies, figurations or ornamentation, they also make demands on the player’s creativity and imagination. Sonata Op.10 No.5 is a suite, with four dances following an “abstract” prelude. From Galván’s pensive and highly expressive playing of the Prelude, she and Roitman presented the mood of each movement, balancing the sensitive gestures of the Prelude and Saraband with the forthright joy of the other movements, with Roitman adding more texture to repeats.  Galván’s playing was free, lush and ornamented, with some delectable concluding ornaments and flutters.


Another Italian composer Pietro Locatelli settled in Amsterdam, where he seems to have led the life of a freelance teacher, performer and composer. As a violinist, he was known as a fine improviser who jealously guarded his gifts. In one contemporary account we read that “Locatelli is so afraid of people’s learning from him that he won’t admit a musician into his concerts”. His Op.2 Sonatas were written for flute and continuo. Showing particular attention to the soft-toned flute and its articulation, the sonatas are well conceived for the instrument, exhibiting Locatelli’s galant writing to perfection. Galván and Roitman’s performance of Op.2 No.4 in G-major (1732), a sonata da chiesa, was performed with much elegance and with some stylish inégal moments. The artists highlighted the personal expression inherent in the third movement (Grave), amidst profuse ornamentation by Galván. An inventory of Locatelli’s possessions at his death in 1764 listed four violins, a viola, a double bass, two harpsichords, a fortepiano, two transverse flutes, one flûte d'amour and six music stands,  giving a lively picture of domestic music-making, it is highly probable that Locatelli was himself a flautist and played his own sonatas.


Sonata in E minor (HWV 375)  for flute and keyboard  (assumed to be) by Georg Friedrich  Händel, published in 1730 and referred to as Halle Sonata No. 2, is thought to be an early work, composed  before 1703, when Handel was a boy in Halle, but attribution is uncertain.(In 2001, Stanley Sadie wrote: “It is impossible to say how many flute sonatas were composed by George Frideric Handel, but the correct number is somewhere between none and eight “) Whatever its source, the artists performed the work with great refinement, Galván’s limpid traverso sound addressing and fashioning each small motif of the opening Adagio, taking on its chromatic leaps with agility and embellishing lavishly. Following the Allegro played with a sense of urgency and excitement, the small, pastoral Grave displayed some enchanting lute spreads and much expressiveness, with the elegance of noble court gallantry and French-mannered notes inégales seeing out the final Minuet.


Georg Philipp Telemann wrote the Metodische Sonate (Methodical Sonatas, 1728-1729)  to be performed either by solo flute or violin; written for the study of ornamentation, the score shows ornaments for the music below the staves with the melodies. This system invited players to either improvise ornaments or to make use of those suggested by the composer. A compendium of styles and genres of the period, well-crafted with a wealth of invention, one nevertheless tends to hear them played as didactic, pedestrian and “methodical” exercises. Galván and Roitman’s reading of Metodische Sonate Op.13 No.4 was, on the other hand, no wallpaper music, but playing finely sculpted in the opening Andante, intense in the Presto movement, then tender and ornate (Con Tenerezza) and concluding with the liveliness of the gigue-like Allegro.


The tour ended in Paris with French composer and flute virtuoso Michel Blavet’s Sonata Op.2 in G-minor “La Lumagne”. Perhaps the most distinguished French flautist of his century, Blavet, serving as first flautist in the orchestra of the Paris Opera, was well known for his purity of tone and brilliant technique. His second set of compositions, “Sonates mêlées de pièces pour la flûte traversière avec la basse” (1732), comprises sonatas of four alternating slow and fast movements, based on the Italian model. They are actually intended to be characterizations of persons, usually specified in the title; ”La Lumagne”,  a suite of dances, is no exception.  Galván certainly met the virtuoso demands made of the 18th-century flutist, combining elegance, subtlety and flair with energy and a substantial flute sound. Roitman’s playing offered interest and individual utterance. The final movement “Le Lutin” (the imp), a rhythmic character piece, combines the delicate with the intense, as Galván incorporated a profusion of lavish ornaments into the movement’s weave.


Lute and traverso concerts are rare to non-existing in Israel, and more the pity. Isidoro Roitman spent several years in Israel before leaving for London and eventually returning to Argentina. Today, he  works with early music ensembles and Baroque and Renaissance dancers in Argentina, Israel, Italy and England and has performed widely in Europe, South America and Australia. He has recorded CDs for Stradivarius and EWM and is a sought-after coach of singers, chamber groups and masterclasses. Playing on a lute lent to him for the concert, he missed the grandeur and flexibility of his own archlute. Gabriela Galván is a Baroque flautist of exceptional ability and emotional expression. She has performed on Baroque- and Classical flute in Germany, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Israel and at the United Kingdom. With a passion for teaching, she works with groups of children and adolescents and teaches flute and chamber music at the Fine Arts School of the National University of La Plata. On an evening of decidedly European weather, the warm space of the Harmony Cultural Center provided a splendid environment for a social gathering to enjoy Baroque salon music.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ensemble PHOENIX performs Mozart Flute Quartets at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Moshe Aron Epstein,Tali Goldberg,Myrna Herzog,Rachel Ringelstein (Eliahu Feldman)
On January 7th 2019, the hall in the Department of Musicology hosting the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Monday noon concerts was bursting at the seams with people interested to hear members of Ensemble PHOENIX performing three of W.A.Mozart’s flute quartets and on period instruments. The quartet consisted of Moshe Aron Epstein-flute, Tali Goldberg-violin, Rachel Ringelstein-viola and PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog-’cello.


When staying in Mannheim at the end of 1777, 21-year-old Mozart met “a gentleman of means and a lover of all the sciences”. This man was Dutch surgeon Ferdinand De Jean, an amateur flautist, who commissioned Mozart to write three concertos and at least three quartets with strings for his instrument. Short of money, Mozart accepted the proposal. Despite the fact that, in a letter to his father, Mozart professed a disliking for the flute, he managed to finish three of the quartets (K. 285, 285a, and 285b) and two of the concertos (the second is actually a transposition of the Oboe Concerto from the preceding year) by the time he left Mannheim, settling with De Jean for just less than half of the original fee. What resulted are some of the Classical period’s most delightful works for flute.


Introducing the program, Dr. Myrna Herzog spoke of the three works on the program as having been composed within two months. From the very opening of the Quartet in G-major KV 285a, the second of the quartets commissioned by De Jean, one became aware of the mellowness of timbre when played on historic instruments, the warm delicate sound of gut strings integrating well with the sound quality of Epstein’s Classical flute. In the first movement (Andante), flute and violin engaged in dialogue, with viola and ‘cello also offering individual expression. The artists drew attention to the potential, sense of adventure and experimentation of the development section. The work’s second (and last) movement - Tempo di Menuetto - exuded appealing melodiousness, its small, playful gestures adding to the movement’s charm. In the Quartet in C-major KV Anh. 171, also of two movements, one experiences Mozart actively involving all players in the work’s weave. The Allegro movement was thoroughly convincing in its good humour, with close communication between the PHOENIX players as they bantered its motifs from one to the other. In the second movement, the modest but lovely subject gives rise to a set of six variations, the first given to the flute; this was amply embellished by Epstein. Variations two and three are led respectively by the violin and cello - in pleasing cantabile playing by Goldberg and Herzog, with some humorous comments from the viola (Ringelstein) - then moving into the C-minor variation, graced by melodic fragments and rich harmonic colour. Especially engaging in its separate agendas, the winsome fifth variation gave rise to delicate, sensitive playing, to be topped off by the spirited, dance-like gestures of the concluding variation.


Moshe Epstein spoke of the D-major KV 295 Quartet as being concerto-like in its writing - brilliant, technically challenging and fast. Indeed, right from the opening Allegro, it is clear that the composer’s intention was to endow the flute with great prominence, as the PHOENIX players communicated closely, addressing Mozart’s major-minor playfulness, giving voice to the movement’s secondary melodies and to its echoes of Mozart operatic gestures. The B-minor Adagio (referred to by Alfred Einstein as “the sweetest melancholy, perhaps the most beautiful accompanied flute solo that has even been written.”) was touching but tastefully restrained, its silken flute “aria” suspended above plucked string sonorities. Then, as the players launched into the final Rondeau, the movement’s Mozartian joie-de-vivre was reflected on the players’ faces as they all took on board its challenging text in debonair performance. One could not be angry at some audience members for humming along with the melodies, for is Mozart’s music not a source of happiness?


Regarding the instruments heard at the concert, Prof. Moshe Epstein played a flute built in England c.1800, an instrument thought to have been played in London at the first performances of Beethoven’s early symphonies. Dr. Myrna Herzog played an Andrea Castagneri Baroque ‘cello made in Paris in 1745, with an original Classical bow from the late 18th century. Rachel Ringelstein was playing on a German viola from the late 18th century (in unchanged original condition!)  with a replica of a Classical bow and Tali Goldberg played on a violin in Baroque reconditioning with a replica of a Classical bow.


So, did Mozart really dislike the flute? When he penned those disparaging words to his father in September 1778, he was struggling to fulfil the commission from De Jean. Also, the Mozart-era flute was much simpler and harder to play in tune than the modern flute, its holes placed according to the natural spread of the fingers, causing several notes to sound out of tune unless blown with the greatest of care. As the instrument was enjoying great popularity at the time, there would have been many amateur players trying their hand at it...and playing out of tune. Let’s just say Mozart was having an off-day when he wrote the letter!


Hearing these Mozart gems performed on period instruments and in a small hall was a true delight. Live performance is also about seeing and experiencing the players’ communication with each other and with the audience. Ensemble PHOENIX’ informed, polished and profound performance was well appreciated by the audience.  



Monday, January 7, 2019

"The Passinge Mesures" - harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani's recent recording of music of the English Virginalist School

Photo: Kaja Smith
Iranian/American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s recent CD “The Passinge Mesures” offers a representative selection of music of the English (and Welsh) Virginalist school, much of it appearing in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, but not all. The artist takes the listener on a journey into the riches of this genre and into his own very personal relationship into it, a “repertoire which I increasingly came to feel I was born to play”, in the artist’s own words.


We are talking about an entire genre that developed and functioned over only a few of decades, the entire school dying out completely by the middle of the 17th century. William Byrd, the first great master of the English Virginalist school of keyboard composition, presided over this era.  Indeed, Esfahani’s playing of Byrd’s “The nynth pavian and galliarde, the Passinge Mesures” (from which the disc takes its title, “Passinge Mesures” apparently being an English miswriting of “passamezzo”), the two dances written in the 1570s to a passamezzo antico bass, bristles with ideas, buoyant figurations and registration changes.  Esfahani’s resourceful playing of the two dances and the variations on each is validation of the fantasy and exuberance there to be unleashed in this music. As to John Bull’s Chromatic (Queen Elizabeth’s) pavan and galliard, its opening pavan emerged meditative and bewitching, with the artist’s playing of the galliard, albeit ornate, still reminding the listener of the joyful dance’s leaps and hops and of its defining feature - a vigorous jump on the last two beats of a phrase.


The great Welsh composer Thomas Tomkins, Byrd’s last surviving pupil, is represented on the disc. His setting of the popular 16th century ballad tune “Barafostus Dreame” (it is not clear who this man was and what kind of dream he had) opens majestically; Esfahani’s playing of the work is stylish, varied and exhilarating, the artist’s hallmark dexterity and incisive playing spelling out the course of the eight variations as he highlights the individuality of each. To me, one of the disc’s highlights is the performance of Tomkins’ Pavana (FVB CXXIII), ceremonious, plangent, and eloquent, Esfahani’s ornamentation sometimes profuse, indeed always fascinating, as are the unexpected harmonic shifts embedded here and there in the score. Other dances featured include the elegant Pavin ‘M.Orlando Gibbons’ by Gibbons himself and “Nobodyes Gigge”, a cheerful, compact piece by Richard Farnaby (Giles Farnaby’s lesser-known son, employed to teach Sir Nicholas Saunderson of Fillingham’s children ‘in skill of musick and plaieinge uppon instruments’)


With the simple melodic style of popular songs and folk tunes serving as a starting-point for composers of the English Virginal School to engage in elaborate forays into keyboard virtuosity, the disc also includes a selection of pieces based on song melodies - an anonymous setting of John Dowland’s wistful “Can she excuse my wrongs?” and Esfahani’s serene playing of  William Inglot’s empathic setting (one of several) of “The leaves bee greene”, a popular tune of the late 16th. Century, also referred to as “Browning”:
‘Browning Madame, browning Madame,
So merrily we sing browning Madame,
The fairest flower in the garden green,
 Is in my love's breast all comely seen,
And with all others, compare she can,
Therefore now let us sing browning Madame.’

Then there are a number of song-based pieces by Giles Farnaby, whose cousin, Nicholas Farnaby, a maker of virginals, may have been instrumental in pointing him in the direction of keyboard music and his subsequent contributions to the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. I have heard performances of Farnaby’s “Wooddy-Cock” sounding like a lexicon of harpsichord techniques. Esfahani’s reading of it speaks of its temperament, invention and spirit; in his bold, unfettered playing of some variations, Esfahani does not waive articulacy in the name of harum-scarum complexity.


And if the fantasia is the composer’s unbuttoned invitation to spontaneity and free expression, this great keyboard artist meets him at eye level, as in John Bull’s Fantasia “Mr Dr Bull”, Esfahani identifying- and celebrating John Bull’s daring and individuality with his own, both their excursions into keyboard virtuosity taking the listener to the edge of his chair. Indeed, no less so in William Byrd’s “Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la”, also referred to as the “Hexachord Fantasia”, featuring the stepwise ascending and descending Guidonian hexachord as a recurrent subject (seventeen times, in fact) and including two song melodies. Esfahani, however, takes it a step further as he invites the piece to burgeon with the rich palette of his own natural and spontaneous expression.


Recorded in 2017 for the Hyperion label, most of the pieces are played on a double-manual harpsichord by Robert Goble & Son, Oxford (1990) based on an instrument made by Carl Conrad Fleischer, Hamburg (1710), with some works performed on virginals made by Huw Saunders, London (1989) and a copy of an instrument made by Thomas White, London (1642). The temperament used for the recording was quarter-comma meantone. The artist’s personal and informative liner notes make for interesting reading. Listening to the warm, richly resonant recording quality of “The Passinge Mesures”, with just enough of a hint of keyboard action heard, I felt as if I had been seated in Mahan Esfahani’s own music room to experience this music together with him. A disc of remarkable performance, conviction and originality! The album is dedicated to the memory of Canadian historic keyboard artist Bradford Tracey (1951-1987).

Photo: Miri Shamir