Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, September 8th

Pianist Andras Schiff

The ninth concert of the 2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, September 8th 2012 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA, consisted of works by Schubert, Polish-born and Russian composers. The aperitif was Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) “Andantino varié in B minor”, D.823 (1827) performed by András Schiff and JICMF musical director Elena Bashkirova. More than economical with the sustaining pedal, Schiff and Bashkirova did not allow the delightful piece’s intricacies weaving around melodic lines to detract from its wistful sincerity. The touching variations, their subject beginning as if in the middle of a sentence, are yet another proof of how precisely Schubert judged the special medium of the piano duet. The artists invited the audience into the salon of a society home to hear one Schubert’s intimate pieces for four hands presented in reposeful play and Biedermeier elegance.

Igor Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) “Three Pieces for String Quartet” were played by the Erlenbusch Quartet – violinists Michael Barenboim and Petra Schweiger, Madeleine Carruzzo and ‘cellist Tim Park. Founded by first violinist Michael Barenboim, its members are based in Berlin. Stravinsky composed the “Three Pieces” at age 32; however, all three miniatures already have the Stravinsky hallmark stamped on them. The Erlenbusch Quartet players read into the style, structures and aphoristic, enigmatic character of the pieces, not an easy task; this is no conventional work for string quartet! They placed the tiny first piece, “Dance”, making its point using four repeated motifs - one evoking a Russian folk tune - on the stage, their performing of the “Eccentric” second movement, its seemingly unrelated, nervous scraps of musical material, as humorous and clownish as its inspiration (the British clown “Little Titch”). They then stood back to sketch the slow, gentle, brumous and dissonant chorale of “Canticle” with a sense of detached mystery. This was a rewarding performance and well suited to festival fare.

Born in Poland, Mieczysław Weinberg, also known as Moyses Vaynberg (1919-1996), fled to Minsk, Byelorussia, where he was encouraged to develop a “Jewish” national style. When the Nazis invaded Soviet territory, Weinberg fled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In 1943, he sent his first symphony to Shostakovich who was so impressed with it that he encouraged Weinberg to move to Moscow, where the two remained firm friends and colleagues. A highly prolific composer writing in all genres of the day, including film music and a Requiem, Weinberg’s music is today regaining recognition through recordings and in concert halls. Weinberg’s Piano Trio opus 24, a wartime piece written 1943 in his early years in Moscow, reflects the emotional mindset of the Jewish refugee in the Soviet Union. We heard it performed by pianist Alexander Melnikov (b.Moscow 1973), violinist Dmitri Makhtin (b. St. Petersburg, 1975) and American-born ‘cellist Alisa Weilerstein (b. 1982 Rochester, New York). The artists took on board the technical, musical and densely emotional roller-coaster ride the piece presents: a work playing on the limits of tonality and beyond, fraught with tension and uncompromising in its bleak message, save for some wonderfully singing, melodic moments for each instrument. Following the insistent, accented piano chords of the unsmiling, intense Toccata (second movement), the Poem (third movement) opened in a more relaxed, eerie manner, the instruments pairing in sensitive, intimate utterances, the “aftershock” sensation sweeping the work’s former intensity away, but only temporarily. The fourth movement, with its avalanche of ideas, its wild counterpoint and unsettling energetic figures, kept the audience busy; introducing a chorale and some tonal references, it nevertheless ends with a bare, deserted soundscape of string overtone sounds (à la Shostakovich). The three young artists gave the work their all, bringing together its wide mix of stylistic contradictions in a coherent, integrated and highly expressive whole.

The program’s most contemporary work was Vladimir Tarnopolski’s (b.1955) “Eindruck-Ausdruck III - Hommage à Kandinsky” (Impression-Expression III). Tarnopolski, a graduate of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, later becoming professor there, is a central figure in the furthering of contemporary music in Russia and beyond, his works being widely commissioned and performed. “Impression-Expression III” is the third version of a work composed in 1989 originally for piano solo, rearranged in 1992 for piano and large ensemble, the setting we heard written scored in 1996 for piano, flute, clarinet and string trio. The composer has referred to the work as a “musical zodiac” built of 12 heterogeneous elements. At the festival concert It was performed by the prestigious local Meitar Ensemble, established in 2004. Joining conductor Guy Feder were Amit Dolberg-piano, Roi Amotz-flute, Gilad Harel-clarinet, Moshe Aharonov-violin, Itamar Ringel-viola and Jonathan Gotlibovich-‘cello. The work opened with individual instrumental fragments, a study of different expressions, timbres and effects – flatterzunge in the flute, clarinet multiphonics, dry string pizzicato, etc. As the work progresses, whimsical imitations take place between players and, eventually spiraling into tutti. In the tutti parts, instruments preserve their specific motifs and personality, the resulting sound bristling with individual movement. With a theatrical dimension to it, the artists presented an interesting performance of defined ideas, brought together under Feder’s articulate and competent conducting.

The concert ended with Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major, D.667 “Trout”, written by the 22-year-old composer in 1819 and inspired by the summer walking trip Schubert took in the “inconceivably beautiful” Austrian Alps (as described by him in a letter to his brother) with his friend the baritone Johann Vogl. The “Trout” Quintet was requested by a wealthy local amateur ‘cellist Sylvester Paumgartner to be played at his soirées; he stipulated that it should include references to one of his favorite Schubert Lieder - “Die Forelle” (The Trout). Members of the ensemble performing it at the JICMF were András Schiff-piano, Dmitri Makhtin-violin, Ori Kam-viola, Alisa Weilerstein-‘cello and Turkish-born double bass player Burak Marlali. Their reading of the work was lyrical, rich and flexible, with Schiff floating the many flowing accompanying lines with charm and also prominently suggesting many of the piece’s emotive shapes; Makhtin’s melodic lines were enticing. The beauty of the performance was the individual interest created by each of the players. Their shaping of the Andante second movement was superb, their textures suggesting the Schubertian vulnerability of soul. Weilerstein and Marlali paid due to the work’s close connection between ‘cello and double bass roles as they created compelling melodic phrases in close collaboration of constant eye contact. Altogether, the quintet gave clear expression both to the work’s gorgeous melodies and to inner voices, subtle accenting, understated hesitations and rubati. Weilerstein’s strongly musical involvement in such a work is ever present. The performance was zesty, exuberant and inspiring, sending the audience home on a high note.

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