Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Atar Trio accompanies the Manes Sperber exhibition from Jerusalem, to Vienna and Bratislava

The Atar Trio – pianist Ofer Shelley, violinist Tanya Beltser and ‘cellist Marina Kats – a Jerusalem ensemble - played a concert at the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in Jerusalem’s Old City August 23rd 2009. The occasion was the closing of an exhibition of the life and work of Manes Sperber. The trio is accompanying the exhibition and will perform at the Jewish Museum of Vienna October 22nd and, finally, at the Jewish Community Center in Bratislava October 24th. Manes Sperber (1905-1984) was a Jewish Austro-French novelist, essayist and psychologist who lived through the threats of both world wars.

The Austrian Hospice, situated on the Via Dolorosa, was opened in 1863. In 1939, it was confiscated by the British who claimed it was “German property” and the house was used as an internment camp for Austrian, German and Italian clergy. After British withdrawal from Palestine, the Jordanian government converted it into a civilian hospital. In 1985 it was returned to its rightful owners and officially reopened in 1988, welcoming pilgrims and other guests to its guesthouse. We were seated in the salon, an ornate room, the side walls of which were painted by Austrian painters F.Eichele and J.Kaltenbach. The ceiling ,depicting four biblical scenes, was painted by an unknown traveling artist. Markus Bugnyar, the hospice’s rector, welcomed the audience and spoke of the importance of preserving Austrian Jewish culture and of the Austrian Hospice’s role in creating a bridge between cultures, countries and religious identities.

The program began with James Oswald’s (1710-1769) Scottish Sonata. Oswald, a Scots composer, gatherer of Scottish works and music publisher, became chamber composer to George III. In 1761. Listening to this small Rococo-style work, one understood how his music, gently infused with Scottish reels, would have appealed to the English public.

Despite their being composed for gifted amateurs, Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) late piano trios (H. XV) present a great challenge to the pianist, with the ‘cello role more subordinated. Composed during Haydn’s second visit to London (1794-5) and dedicated to Theresa Janson (a gifted pupil of Clementi whom Haydn had befriended), the Trio in C major H.XV no.27 was given a fresh, spirited reading by the Atar Trio. Shelley’s playing was clean and elegant, keeping his use of the sustaining pedal to a minimum. The artists addressed the harmonic tensions and mood contrasts of the work, the Haydnesque joy of the final Presto rendered somewhat ragged towards the end.

Switzerland and France were the last two stops in Manes Sperber’s life, hence the choice of a work by Frank Martin (1890-1974). Composed in 1925, Martin’s “Trio on Popular Irish Melodies” represents Martin’s fascination with Greek- and Bulgarian rhythms and those of the Far East. This early work, a brilliant, multi-layered collage of old Irish melodies, constructed in three movements, is set against constantly changing experimental textures and polyrhythms. The Atar players take on board the individual character and workings of each role, the complexities and mood changes; they take join this “game” of diversity set out by the composer, from ominous, mysterious piano gestures, to wistful, well-crafted ‘cello melodies, to the sound of the Irish fiddle. The final “Gigue” is, in fact, an Irish “Jig”. The audience enthused over this colorful, energetic concert piece.

Born in Lithuania, Joseph Achron (1886-1943) became a violin prodigy. Involved in the Jewish Folk Art Society, he was intent on promoting the cause for traditional Jewish folk music in the concert hall. His Lullaby opus 35, no. 2, abounding in eastern European Jewish motifs, was performed by Beltser and Shelley. The artists gave this short work an intense and convincing performance.

The program ended with Spanish composer Joaquin Turina’s (1882-1949) “Circulo” opus 91. The work, a tone painting in three movements, takes the listener through the course of a day. Beginning with early morning ‘s gentle awakening, sketched in lush seventh-chord harmonies with a smattering of bird calls, the work blossoms into daylight to a larger, major scene peppered with pizzicati, jazzy moments lending brightness and a sense of well-being, The work ends sounds of muted strings suggesting the tranquility of dusk. The Atar Trio’s reading of the work was evocative, the players’ use of colors and fantasy realized by fine playing.


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