Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ariel String Quartet and Roman Rabinovich at YMCA Jerusalem

On a balmy Jerusalem evening you decide to go to a chamber music concert to hear works of Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms. You are inspired by the thrilling and profound performance and then you read in the program that all the players are in their 20’s. Rub your eyes (or your ears) but that was the case May 27th 2009 at the 11th concert of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s 2008-2009 concert series at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship at the Jerusalem YMCA, where the Ariel String Quartet was joined by pianist Roman Rabinovich.

Members of the Ariel Quartet - violinists Gershon Gerchikov and Sasha Kazovsky, violist Sergey Taransky and ‘cellist Amit Even-Tov – have been playing together for over ten years, thanks to the JMC’s program youth training which nurtures promising young musicians. After completing studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, the four string players moved to the New England Conservatory to continue their professional training. They perform widely, are recipients of prestigious prizes and bursaries and serve the community by performing in schools and senior citizen centres.

Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) String Quartet no. 13 in A minor D. 804, “Rosamunde” (1824) is alive with quotations and references to other works by the composer, making direct connections to his Lied style. With Sasha Kazovsky as first violinist, the quartet sets the scene in the nostalgic opening Allegro ma non troppo, pacing each gesture, from delicate threads of sound to wrenching, vehement statements. Through the delicate and intensely singing second movement (that utilizes the “Rosamunde” theme from Schubert’s incidental music) to the Minuetto-Allegro third movement, the players allow each gesture to dictate its own tempo, presenting the melancholy of a Schubert in the shadow of his fatal illness. The final movement, Allegro moderato, provides relief from the sadness of the former movements, changing to a dancelike mood, with the quartet using rubato to give it descriptive flexibility.

Gershon Gerchikov played first violin in Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) String Quartet in F minor opus 95, “Serioso” (1810), a stark and disquieting piece dating from the end of Beethoven’s middle period. From the first note, the players coordinate with precision to present Beethoven’s stormy, moody temperament in a collage of abrupt, short themes, silences and strange chromatic whims. The ‘cello opens the second movement in a more tranquil vein, its solitary threads building up to a highly contrapuntal texture, with calm moments never far from the composer’s tendency to gravitate back to his agitated inner existence. All movements belie sadness and solitary thoughts, even the final more energetic Larghetto espressivo- Allegretto agitato. This is an emotionally challenging and complicated piece for young people to tackle but the quartet certainly read into its issues, going for brilliant performance and fine musicianship.

Pianist Roman Rabinovich (b.1985, Uzbekistan), at present studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, performs in Europe, the USA and in Israel and is the recipient of many prizes. He also paints and exhibits his artwork. Rabinovich joined the Ariel Quartet to perform Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Piano Quintet in F minor opus 34. Originally composed as a string quintet in 1862, it was rewritten as a sonata for two pianos before finally being refashioned into a piano quintet in 1864. In this performance, Gerchikov took the first violin part. The many brash moments, alternating with lush lyricism bristling with unexpected harmonic changes, give the listener a picture of the young Brahms and his temperament. The players give the work fullness, contrast and vitality, playing out the dialogue between piano and strings, its intensity the result of the forthright approach of these young artists. Their performance leaves no room for compromise, their vision of the piece’s moods and searching, however, giving a sense of structural unity, heard in the falling semitone motif running throughout the piece. Rabinovich is a pianist to be reckoned with; using technical brilliance and a keen ear, he mixes and blends colors with his fellow players, the results of which constitute a fiery and exciting performance.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra opens 2009 Israel Festival

Who is Henryk Miklolaj Gorecki and would his Symphony no. 3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” opus 36, have an impact on the Israeli listener? The 2009 Israel Festival opened on May 24th with a concert of Polish music. Polish-born Maestro Michal Dworzynski conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in an evening of Polish music that was also the closing event of the “Polish Year in Israel” project. Distinguished guests from Poland as well as many local Polish speakers were among those present at the gala concert.

Premiered in 1977, the symphony has three slow movements, each with a different Polish text sung by a soprano, in this case, Polish singer Iwona Hossa. The texts all speak of grieving and separation through war, each are written by a woman, in two of the poems, a mother speaking of the loss of her child. Based on Polish sacred- and secular melody and modes, each movement is built of simple motifs, the orchestral score creating a massive, dark, repetitive canvas of human tragedy, with few glimmers of hope. Gorecki’s economical use of the piano is effective, sprinkling clusters and lights into the heavy soundscape. Iwona Hossa’s reading of the work is profound, dramatic and understated at the same time, her huge voice taking on the IPO with ease, presence and intensity, her high range as rich and spicy as her fruity lower range. The third movement, a lullaby based on the motif of a minor second melodic, is told by a mother who grieves for her son killed in the Silesian uprisings. Hossa, not merely a soloist here, blends with the orchestra. We hear plaintive bells. A new work to the IPO, Dworzynski breathes into it clear lines, expressiveness and shape. He leads clearly and communicates his ideas to the orchestra in detail. Hossa’s performance was unforgettable. Above all, Dworzynski and Hossa prove that outstanding musicianship can build a convincing, moving performance.

The atmosphere in the hall took an upward lift after intermission, with two early works of Frederyk Chopin (1810-1849), at the hands of two young soloists. Chopin’s Variations on “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, composed in 1827, his first work for piano and orchestra, brim with youthful exuberance, daring and humor. Israeli pianist, Dorel Golan, understood the task at hand from the first note, utilizing her crystal clean style and technical brilliance to frolic with the orchestra, much of whose role was either very secondary or buffoonery. Her enjoyment of this tongue-in-cheek piece was infectious, she was bold and secure, hinting at drama in the minor variation, glittery and spirited in the others, (hitting the pedal too hard at times), making virtuosic playing appear a breeze.

Polish pianist Jacek Kortus, 21, is a music student at the Poznan Music Academy. He was soloist in Chopin’s Concerto in E minor for Piano and Orchestra no. 1, opus 11 (1830.) Following Dworzynski’s gregarious introduction, Kortus entered with carefully paced gestures, using his rich palette of pianistic color to weave gorgeous melodic lines and follow Chopin’s sudden changes. His playing boasts both brilliance and moderation. Soloist and orchestra were integrated. In the second movement, Romance-Larghetto, Kortus plays out the Romantic plot with richness and generosity, floating wisps of color. and gliding. The final movement was well contrasted, juxtaposing heavy moments with light. This is surely a work to be enjoyed in the concert hall and Dworzynski and Kortus collaborated to give its performance freshness and color, to set the audience’s heart a-flutter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra - J.S.Bach - French and Italian Baroque styles.

The fifth concert in the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2008-2009 concert series, May 13th 2009 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship YMCA Jerusalem, was titled “Bach and the Tastes of France and Italy”. Conducted from the harpsichord by the JBO’s founder and musical director, Dr. David Shemer, the program included two works by J.S.Bach – one in the French style, the second in the Italian – as well as works by Lully, Corette and Vivaldi, composers whose styles were of those which had influenced Bach.

J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) four orchestral suites or “Ouvertures” were probably composed between 1725 and 1739 in Leipzig. Scored for strings, harpsichord and flute, the Ouverture (Suite) no. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 is a virtuosic work to challenge the best of flautists, in this performance Israeli-born Tami Krausz, today living in Holland, teaching in The Hague. Following the bold, dotted opening statement typical of the French court style opening movement, the overture breaks into a fugue, its melodic lines articulately crafted in the hands of the JBO. Maestro Shemer’s predilection for court dances is evident in the reading of each that follow the overture: the Rondeau , played stylistically in the inegal manner, was followed by a serious Sarabande, the latter to be whisked away by a lighter, but intensely galloping Bourree. The steps of the Polonaise were accented but not without a lift. Its Double, (variation), was lighter in texture, with Orit Messer-Jacobi’s sensitive playing of the melody on ‘cello set against Krausz’ brilliant embellishing line. As to the final movement, the Badinerie (“badiner” in French means “to jest”), Krausz gave an enchanting, agile and delightfully embellished performance of it.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) had some 500 concertos to his credit; it was he who established the three-movement format, using the ritornello form for fast movements and he was also among the first to introduce cadenzas for soloists. His deft coordination of melody and harmony was much admired by Bach, who had learned much about the Italian style from transcribing Vivaldi’s concertos and trio sonatas. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo in A major was dressed up by fine string playing, in particular with a sparkling performance by Italian violinist Raffaello Negri. Negri is a member of Fabio Biondi’s “Europa Galante” ensemble and has played in a number of the JBO’s concerts of this season.

Jean-Baptiste Lully’s (1632-1687) Suite from “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”, composed c.1668, was one of the works born of the collaboration between Lully and Moliere. Lully, himself, in addition to being a court composer, was a dancer, dramatist and comedian. The play was requested by Louis XIV after a Turkish ambassador had visited Paris, making a rather foolish impression. Louis had asked Moliere to write a play with a Turkish theme and Moliere obliged, including nonsense phonemes to imitate the Turkish language! Lully’s suite opens in a richly, dotted formal overture. Courtly dance forms follow, with the JBO entertaining the audience with delicately handled nuances and accents, stepping out the French dances with elegance and sophistication. In the last movement, “Marche pour la ceremonie des Turcs”, a little percussion was added, coloring the movement with pomp and color. “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is a comedy, but its music, nevertheless, reflects the splendour of Versailles.

French organist, teacher and prolific composer Michel Corrette (1707-1795) wrote much on the subject of performance practice, about English music, the art of accompanying song at the harpsichord and about the differences between French and Italian styles, both of which had influenced his own style of writing. Essentially a Baroque composer all his life, he composed his witty, charming comic concertos, many of them based on well-known songs and popular tunes, between 1733 and 1760, also conducting them between acts at the Opera Comique in Paris. A large proportion of his works are arrangements: his Concerto Comique no.25 “Les Sauvages” (The Savages) is partly based on “Les Sauvages” from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Les Indes Galantes” (The Gallant Indians). The work opened with a demanding set of variations, performed with energy and joy by Negri. The charming Andante for harpsichord, flute (Kimberly Reine) and plucked strings was followed by the hearty “La Furstemburg”, (referring to a prominent family in 18th century Paris), with Negri’s performance enhanced by his fine ornamentation. Reine added an air of elegance to the work.

Of Bach’s few secular cantatas, Cantata no.209 “Non sa che sia dolore” (Only One Who Knows Sorrow) is one of two Bach cantatas written to an Italian text. There is even some doubt as to whether Bach composed it. The date of composition is unknown but the work seems to have been dedicated to someone from Ansbach or traveling to Ansbach, sailing on high seas over which a storm blows up and dies down. The Ansbach court employed Italian musicians and performed much Italian music; this cantata uses original poetry, interpolating passages from works of Guarini and Metastasio and it reflects the A.Scarlatti form of alternating recitative with aria. The performance featured soprano Yeela Avital and flautist Tami Krausz. The opening Sinfonia for flute and strings, in effect, a concerto, sets the scene with a fine mix of orchestral color, shaped phrasing and competent solo playing. Avital uses her golden voice and expressive features to tell a story, to involve her audience in the verbal text. In the third movement, an Aria, Krausz lavishes textures and interest on the flute obbligato part, with Avital painting the first section in somber tones, changing mood with the brighter middle section, infusing it with life and color.
‘Part thou, then, to our deep sadness,
Leave to us our hearts in sorrow.

My country will rejoice,
Most fitly wilt thou serve her;
Pass on from shore to shore now,
Propitious find the wind and billows.’

This was an evening of delight and excellence. Shemer’s program notes make for interesting reading.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Barrocade presents "Les Elements" in Baroque works.

The fourth concert in Barrocade’s 2008-2009 season was a program of works by Telemann, Naudot, Clerambault, Vivaldi and Rebel. The theme of this program, May 6th 2009 at the Mary Nathaniel Hall of Friendship, YMCA Jerusalem, was inspired by J.F.Rebel’s unconventional work – “Les Elements”. Each work performed represented one of the elements, the Rebel work symbolizing all four.

The Barrocade Ensemble’s performance of G.P.Telemann’s (1685-1767) “Ouverture a 11 for Wind- and String Instruments” was an Israeli premiere, the wind instruments being the association with Air. Opening with a noble, French-style overture, dances of the suite have non-musical titles, as do a number of works by Telemann. The composer named the second movement “Cyclopes”. It is a Loure, a slow or moderate dance in ternary meter, and it grotesquely depicts the one-eyed primordial giant dancing. The jolly Minuet and Trio presented a number of different instrumental combinations. This was followed by “Galimatias en Rondeau”, “galimatias” being a term for “nonsense” or “gobbledygook”; it was performed with some quirky accents, in keeping with its character. In this mix of elegance and humor, we heard some very fine playing, in particular, that of oboist Aviad Gershoni.

French composer J.C.Naudot (c.1690-1762) was well known as a teacher and virtuoso flautist, moving exclusively within the aristocratic and rich bourgeois circles of Paris. Most of his oeuvre consists of flute concertos and sonatas. His “Flute Concerto no. 2 in E minor” (from Concertos a sept parties, 1737) was the Water element, with the many flowing passages in the flute part suggesting water in nature. Flautist and instrument-builder Boaz Berney, on Baroque flute, delighted the audience with his ease, agility and choice of ornaments. The opening to the second movement - Largo - was heavy and ominous but the solo flute presented a different message, with tender- and singing melodies and birdlike effects, each gesture beautifully crafted. Berney’s energy and technical velocity never rule out delicacy and good taste.

Composer and organist, Louis-Nicolas de Clerambault (1676-1749) composed sacred works and music for harpsichord and organ. He became best known, however, for his 25 cantatas, written in a fusion of French and Italian style. His “Le soleil, vainqueur des nuages” (The Sun, Conquerer of the Clouds), constituted the element of Fire. Composed in 1721, the composer refers to it as an “Allegorical cantata on the recovery of the King’s health”, the king being Louis XV. Soloist was soprano Ye’ela Avital. She shows vocal ease and flexibility, communicates with her audience, is expressive and takes the listener through the text together with her. Appearing frequently in Baroque concerts, Avital is never an observer of the plot : she is involved, affected and sympathetic. The work also provides plenty of say for the instrumentalists - in pairs, groups and solo. Kimberley Reine’s flute solo was very pleasing. In the second recitative, bass instruments reinforce the drama of the moment:
‘But the day grows dark,
Ye gods! What gloomy clouds suddenly cover the splendour shining on us!
The blackest blast that Thrace has produced spreads thick darkness everywhere and makes day yield to the horrors of night.’

As an encore, Ye’ela Avital sang the bittersweet French song “The Falling Leaves” (Kosma/Prevert) to a delicate Barrocade arrangement, with Amit Tiefenbrunn plucking bluesy harmonies on the bass viol. Shlomit Sivan’s violin’s gently swayed, improvisatory playing of one verse was a nice feature. Avital is engaging and feminine, her caressing, well-controlled piano tones invite her audience to emote with her and the audience loved it. I asked myself how fitting this was in a concert of Baroque music.

A very nice choice for the Earth element was Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto “La Pastorella” for Recorder, Oboe, Violin and Bassoon in D major, RV 93. Recorder soloist Katia Polin was joined by soloists Shlomit Sivan-violin, Aviad Gershoni-oboe and Gilat Rotkop-bassoon. This is a fine concert piece, in particular for Polin (who is also Barrocade’s violist.) With the recorder and bassoon holding opposite ends of the spectrum, Polin and Rotkop both shine and enjoy responsibility for the outer layers of the ensemble. Polin has the lion’s share of solos: her full tone and secure technique are fired by youthful energy and forthright temperament.

Composer and virtuoso violinist, Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747) was among Louis XIV’s favourite musicians. He composed his ballet music, “Les Elements, Simphonie Nouvelle” at age 71; it was premiered in 1737, but without its “Le Chaos” movement. “Le Chaos” is an astounding description of the birth of the Elements from pre-existing chaos…and chaos it is, opening with a thunderous dissonance. In his introduction, Rebel wrote “I have dared to link the idea of confusion of the Elements with that of confusion in Harmony. I have risked opening with all the notes sounding together, or rather, all the notes in an octave played as a single sound”. Violins scream and flutes sing. Dances following this boast imaginative scoring, representing the various elements and offer players individual moments. There are hunting calls, two rustic “Tambourins” and the warbling of nightingales, the latter evoked by Boaz Berney on piccolo with Shlomit Sivan on violin, to mention but a few of the ideas depicted. The full score of the work has not survived, thus encouraging groups of a creative and imaginative approach, as is Barrocade, to take their own decisions as to interpretation.

Barrocade is now completing its second season. The ensemble works and performs without a conductor, all performances being the result of discussion among all the players.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pinchas Zukerman and Friends in Jerusalem

The Zukerman Chamber Players were guest artists of the 9th concert of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s chamber music concert series. “Pinchas Zukerman and Friends” attracted a very large audience to their concert in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship at the YMCA, Jerusalem, May 4th, 2009.

Violinist, violist, conductor, pedagogue and chamber musician, Pinchas Zukerman (b.Tel Aviv 1948) established the Zukerman Chamber Players in 2003. Members of this string quintet are Zukerman-violin, Jessica Linnebach-violin, Jethro Marks-viola, Ashan Pillai-viola and Amanda Forsyth-‘cello.

Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) String Trio in B flat major, D 471, was composed in 1816, at a time he was still a student of Salieri.. Only the first movement, Allegro, and a fragment of the slow movement of this work survive. An early chamber work, it subtly predicts the more uniquely personal style Schubert was to develop in later chamber works. The players brought out a na├»ve sweetness alternating in darker moments, the movement ending on a poignant note.

W.A.Mozart’s String Quintet in C major, K515 was composed in 1787 on the composer’s return to Vienna from Prague where his “Marriage of Figaro” had been given a clamorous reception, this success resulting in the commission of a new opera. It seems the C major quintet was composed while Mozart was waiting for da Ponte to complete the libretto for Don Giovanni.. Performed with delicacy, precision, joy and plenty of melodic interest, Zukerman’s role as leader is ever apparent. The Allegro was presented as a mix of joy and understatement, flexed with a touch of rubato, leaving the listener with a sense of what Alfred Einstein had referred in this movement as “godlike and childlike”.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed his String Quintet in B flat major, opus 87, at age 36. The Zukerman Chamber Players delighted the audience with their exuberance and varied palette of sonorities for the performance of this wonderful concert piece, from the energy and warmth of the opening Allegro vivace movement to the lighter, more delicate scoring of the Andante Scherzando. The lyrical third movement, Adagio e lento, was presented in all its soul-searching and melancholy expressiveness, its almost tragic message swept aside by the fourth movement that alternates forthright energy with calm, restoring that Mendelssohn sense of well-being. This was surely the high point of the evening.

For an encore, the quintet played one movement of A. Dvorak’s (1841-1904) String Quintet in E, opus 97, which, although composed in America, harks back to Czechoslovakia and its folk idiom. The Zukerman Chamber Players thrilled the Jerusalem audience with their brilliance and precision, with their attention to stylistic detail and pleasing string color, never overstepping the boundaries of good taste. One was constantly attracted to focusing on Zukerman’s vibrant musicality and to that of the brilliant Canadian ‘cellist, Amanda Forsyth.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Murray Perahia in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Pianist Murray Perahia, president of the Jerusalem Music Centre, was in Jerusalem conducting master classes for pianists at the JMC from April 19th to April 23rd. This workshop focused on Schenkerian analysis as a guide to better understanding of the construction of works being performed. Joining him was Professor Roger Kamien (Dept. of Musicology, Hebrew University) who presented four lectures on Schenkerian analysis during the week. Perahia performed a solo recital at the Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, April 26th.

Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) was an Austrian musician whose analytical approach involved looking beneath the immediate surface of music to find large-scale shapes and patterns as a guide to more meaningful playing. Young musicians taking part in Perahia’s master classes were required to present the maestro with a written musical analysis of pieces they were to play. The workshop began with Berenika Glixman’s performance of J.S.Bach’s Partita no. 4 in D major, BWV 828; it was Perahia’s wish to begin the week with Bach, to discuss the shapes and construction of a musical text in which Bach indicates no direction. This was, however, no academic exercise: Perahia talked of Bach the great harmonist, Bach the improviser, of the emotional meaning of modulation, of dissonance and consonance, of building melodic and harmonic intensity towards the highest point of a phrase. Perahia worked with Glixman on the delicate playing of inner voices, mentioning the many long hours he himself had spent working on inner voices.

During the four days of master classes, sixteen outstanding young pianists performed works of Bach, as well as Classical and Romantic composers, to an excited and involved audience of students, piano teachers and music enthusiasts crowded into the auditorium of the JMC.

Murray Perahia’s recital at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv was hosted by the JMC and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Proceeds from the concert went to the training of young musicians and the promotion of excellence in music-making in Israel. Born in the USA in 1947, Perahia is one of the most sought-after pianists of today. He is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, London, and has recently embarked on an ambitious project to edit the complete Beethoven Sonatas for the Henle Urtext Edition.

Perahia’s program was accessible to a wide number of music lovers, due to the fact that it was compiled of familiar and well-loved pieces. It opened with J.S.Bach’s (1687-1750) Partita no. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825. The first of Bach’s works to be published and the last set of keyboard suites he composed, they are his freest and most challenging suites. Perahia’s reading of the Prelude and each of the dances was thought-provoking, finely crafted, layered in refined voice-play, his economic use of ornamentation and chord spreads never a hindrance to the general plan of each movement.

Perahia’s performance of W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Sonata in F major K332 was an articulate guide to the musical text of the work: he stressed melodic changes, major-minor shifts and sudden contrasts using gentle rhythmic flexibility to do so, all this expressed in a language of humility and clarity.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s ( 1770-1827) Sonata no. 23 in F minor, opus 57 (“Appassionata”) was composed during the period from 1803 to 1806. In 1802, Beethoven addressed his Heiligenstadt Testament to his two brothers, discussing his deteriorating hearing: “My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas…” By 1803, the composer was coming to terms with his deafness, issuing in his “middle period” of creativity, one of struggle and renewed strength, during which the “Appassionata” was composed. Perahia’s performance of this monumental work evokes Beethoven’s capriciousness, his vulnerability, but also, at times, a sense of well-being, the tools for this character portrait being the technical possibilities offered by the modern piano. Yet, despite the turbulent inner journey described, the pianist never resorts to the unruly; Perahia remains an observer and an interpreter.

Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, opus 24, were composed in September of 1861, dedicated to Clara Schumann and presented to her on her 42nd birthday. She premiered the work in December of the same year. Presenting this wonderful concert piece, Perahia invites the listener to forget the virtuosity involved in its performance and listen to the myriad of ideas, styles, textures and moods, the grouping of variations and to join him in building all towards the dense, many-faceted fugue referred to by British musician and writer, Julian Littlewood, as “a dense, contrapuntal argument”.

In response to a standing ovation, Murray Perahia played two Schubert Impromptus with his signature delicacy, with sensitive attention to filigree details, recreating melodies and harmonies that soar and float and take your breath away.