Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Doris Bogner and Hyang Lee-Labek in recital at the Austrian National Day celebrations at the Austrian Hospice, Jerusalem

To conclude the Austrian National Day festive evening held on October 26th 2013 at the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, a recital took place in the salon of the Hospice; it featured Austrian artists Doris Bogner-soprano and pianist Hyang Lee-Labek. The concert, comprising all Austrian music, was attended by many distinguished guests, among them, the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and the Greek Patriarch Theophilus III, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Words of greeting and appreciation were given by rector of the Austrian Hospice Markus St. Bugnyar.

A graduate of the Vienna Music Academy, Doris Bogner teaches voice at the Ludwig Ritter von Köchel Music School, Krems (Austria), is a consultant at various vocal courses; she gives solo performances in church music and as a concert- and oratorio singer in Austria and further afield. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Hyang Lee-Labek studied at the Seoul National University of Art and the Vienna Conservatory. She performs as a soloist and chamber musician, also accompanying singers, in Austria and other countries. Today, she teaches at the Ludwig Ritter von Köchel Music School and works as an accompanist at the Conservatory for Church Music of the Diocese of St. Pölten.

The program opened with Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) “Scena di Berenice”, a large-scale operatic scene set to a text from Metastasio’s “Antigono” and first performed in 1795. Doris Bogner contended impressively with the dramatic character of the scene, in which Berenice, in love with Demetrius, the son (by a previous marriage) of her husband Antigonus, struggles with her conflicting emotions, imagining her lover departing for the underworld; she calls on the gods to bring her life to an end. Bogner and Lee-Labek presented the many stages of the heroine’s drama and its dilemmas compellingly, with Lee-Labek taking on the orchestral score with two hands!

A major part of the program consisted of works by Mozart. The soprano voice has inspired some of Mozart’s most sublime music. In the concert aria “Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte” (When Louisa burned the letters of her unfaithful lover) Bogner’s rendition brought out the doubts, the passionate despair, the melancholy and bitterness of this dramatic stage monologue, all with urgency and precision. In “Dans un bois solitaire” (In a lonely wood), written in the style of a French arietta, the artists set the tranquil scene of the cool, green forest through which a young man is wandering; he sees cupid asleep and wakes him, only to be shot with his arrows. Here, Bogner and Lee-Labek build up the song’s intensity and its message of fate in this compact but complete musical drama. One of the two songs Mozart had written to French texts, “Dans un bois” certainly does not belie the composer’s dislike of the French language! In “Das Veilchen” (The Violet), Lee-Labek opened with a sensitive description of the small, modest and unassuming violet, the piece then spiraling via the shepherdess’s song and dance to the catastrophe of the trampling of the violet, with the piece rounding off with the narrator’s sympathy with “the poor violet”. Bogner and Lee-Labek addressed the minutiae of this perfectly formed work. Providing comic relief from the tribulations of love, “Warnung” (Warning) was performed with the wink of an eye, with Bogner addressing her audience and entertaining it well with a few home truths:
‘Men are always searching for something to nibble;
If one leaves them alone
They will easily find a maiden to snatch,
For they know how to surprise them…’
The Mozart section of the program ended with what might be considered the composer’s greatest concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te?...Non temer, amato bene” (To forget you...Fear not, my beloved). Composed in 1786, the work merges operatic- with concerto elements. The artists collaborated in creating the many-faceted opera duet, Lee-Labek’s handling of the virtuosic and expressive piano part (played originally by Mozart himself) meeting Bogner at eye level, juxtaposing the virtually unaccompanied vocal outbursts with rapid flourishes on the piano.

The Schubert Lied section of the program opened with a very amusing rendering of “Die Männer sind méchant” (Men Are Rogues), to a text of Johann Seidl. This is a humorous, lubricious song on the subject of relationships between the sexes, (a subject and style seldom broached by Schubert), a risky theme at the time of stringent censorship in Metternich’s Austria. We then heard three much-loved and familiar Schubert Lieder: a finely chiseled performance of “Heidenröslein” (The Hedge Rose), with Lee-Labek alert to each turn of the miniature song, a descriptive and evocative reading of “Die Forelle” (The Trout) and the beguiling “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”, with its challenging piano evocation of the gentle lapping of the waves and the movement of a boat, the background to the song’s message that human life is transient.

In Hyang Lee-Labek’s performance of Franz Schubert’s Impromptu opus 142 no.3 in B flat major, there was much attention to the piece’s cantabile mood and to the different character of each variation, to its lightness as well as the dark brooding of the minor variation, offering some magical moments. Some of the passagework lacked delicacy.

The recital took the audience into the very early 20th century, with one of Arnold Schönberg’s Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs). Financial pressures provided the unfortunate circumstances for the composer to try his hand at writing music for the less-than-cultured audience of cabarets, rather than for the bourgeois people visiting Vienna’s musical salons; in fact, there is no record that these “Cabaret Songs” (1901-1902) were ever performed. The singer in the Aria from the “Spiegel von Arkadia” (Mirror of Arkady), to a poem by Mozart’s librettist Emanuel Schikenader, is a womanizer. Here, in a decidedly unfamiliar guise, Schönberg uses Romantic, tonal language and utilizes ambiguous harmonic ideas and piano figurations to highlight textual double-entendres. Doris Bogner and Hyang Lee-Labek gave the feisty, satirical song their all, ending the recital on an earthy note, bringing a smile to the faces of many present.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mendelssohn's "Elijah" opens the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra's 76th season.

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA opened the Liturgical Series of its 76th season with a performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” opus 20. This writer attended the performance on October 16th 2013 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre. Making his debut with the JSO was Maestro Klaus Knubben, conductor of the Limburg Boys’ Cathedral Choir, which, together with some extra bass singers, formed the chorus in this performance. Soloists were soprano Mechthild Bach (Germany), mezzo-soprano Alison Browner (Ireland/Germany), tenor Markus Schäfer (Germany) and baritone Christoph Prégardien (Germany). The Limburg Cathedral Choir was established in 1967 and comprises 50 singers in concert, chosen from some 140 singers in the overall organization. The choir’s main function is the singing liturgical repertoire for church services; it also tours abroad. Having conducted the choir for 25 years, Knubben, now retiring, was given the visit to Israel as a token of appreciation by the Bishop of Limburg, Dr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. The two Israeli performances of “Elijah” were supported by the Goethe Institute.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) completed “Elijah” a year before his untimely death. In 1837, he had begun working on the text with Carl Klingemann and then with theologian Julius Schubring, both collaborations eventually amounting to nothing. When on a visit to England, the composer was conducting at the Birmingham Music Festival, where the director proposed Mendelssohn write a new oratorio for presentation the following year. The collaboration with Schubring was revived, not without differences of opinion as to what texts to use, they finally agreed on Old Testament texts, using Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible, and the work came into being. Using a quickly written English version, Mendelssohn conducted it in England in 1846. Instead of an unbroken narrative, the oratorio presents a series of scenes from the prophet’s life, interspersed with prayers and meditations. Mendelssohn had his own clear image of Elijah, in his own words, “energetic and zealous, but also stern, angry, brooding…up against the whole world – yet borne aloft on angels’ wings.” It was Schubring’s idea to place the prophet’s curse before the overture, an effective and original initiative. The singers adopt the roles of specific characters, at times, playing more than one: the baritone soloist is Elijah; the mezzo-soprano represents both an angel and the idol-worshipping Queen Jezebel. The choir embodies the Israelites as well as the priests of Baal (Jezebel’s imported deities), also commenting on the miracles of divine intervention.

Mendelssohn wrote to Schubring that “the dramatic must predominate…and the contemplative, moving aspect…” Klaus Knubben’s reading of it presented the composer’s richly endowed canvas - the people’s suffering, the divinity versus the curse brought on by the Israelites’ inconsistency and the many marvelously vibrant pictorial ideas propelled by the score’s orchestration – such as the descent of fire and the onrush of water in Part One and the whirlwind in Elijah’s ascent to heaven, complete with effects of the storm and pelting rain. The performance we heard abounded in powerful contrasts and internal echoes. The soloists at this concert, all singing with the JSO for the first time, fuelled the emotional plot in an outstanding and convincing range of portrayals. Christoph Prégardien (whose powerful performance of an unconventional scoring of Schubert’s “Winter’s Journey” with Ensemble Pentaedre and Joseph Petric in Jerusalem in March 2011 remains unforgettable in the minds of many of us) presented music and theatre at their best. Prégardien used his extensive palette of colors and his profound understanding of Elijah’s complex character in singing that was tender, humane, confrontational and colored with overwhelming sorrow.
‘It is enough;
O Lord, now take away my life,
For I am not better than my fathers…’
Nothing hindered the range of emotions Prégardien highlighted in the texts and his totally convincing and moving performance of them engaged, convinced and moved the listener.

Soprano Mechthild Bach’s easeful, natural singing served the text’s immediacy; in her depiction of individual suffering with the revival of her child representing the restoring of faith, she communicated with orchestra and audience. In “Hear ye, Israel”, Mechthild Bach’s expressive singing was delicate, haunting and silvery. Dublin-born Alison Browner’s true, bright vocal sound, her fine diction and careful pacing gave rise to shades of expression, her singing of the most delicate sounds reaching all corners of the hall. In her eloquent singing of “O rest in the Lord”, she conveyed the aria’s message of consolation. Markus Schäfer’s large, mellifluous, expressive and well-anchored tenor voice, sounded uniformly well in all registers, contending with the orchestral forces and blending splendidly with Prégardien’s voice.

One does not often hear such an outstanding line-up of soloists in one performance in Israel. Not to be forgotten are the boy soprano soloists (from the Limburg Cathedral Boys’ Choir) and, of course, the richly rewarding vocal ensembles. Klaus Knubben’s work with the cathedral choir brings out the drama and vehemence of the choruses in Mendelssohn’s extensive range of dynamics and choral colors as he plays timbre against timbre. The choristers show confidence and flexibility; their diction is polished, as is their precision in entries, phrase endings and rests. Jerusalem concert-goers were presented with the finest of European musical performance, with attentive and supportive playing on the part of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. An uplifting performance.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Berlin "Sirventes" Ensemble at the September 2013 Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

Making its first appearance in Israel, “Sirventes” Berlin gave two a-cappella concerts at the September 2013 Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival. The virtuosic a-cappella ensemble was conducted by Maestro Stephan Schuck, its founder and director. This writer attended their concert on September 26th at the Kiryat Ye’arim Church.

Stephan Schuck studied Church Music (organ, piano, conducting) in Frankfurt, taking a further degree in orchestral- and choral conducting. He moved to Berlin to take up an assistant professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts and to be assistant conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Choir. For some years, he was professor of choral conducting at the Rothenburg High School of Church Music, near Stuttgart. Today Schuck works with two groups - “Sirventes” and the "Hugo Distler" Choir, an amateur community choir.

Established ten years ago, “Sirventes” is an ensemble of professional singers, most of them freelancers, who also sing in two other major professional Berlin choirs. All-in-all 32 singers, eight or so of them usually take part in each concert, as was the case at Abu Gosh; Maestro Stephan Schuck selects the kinds of voices he needs for each kind of repertoire (and according to other commitments the singers may have). He uses male altos for very early music and female altos for Romantic music. In the Abu Gosh concerts, there was one female- and one male alto. Schuck explained that there is no one leading soprano singer and that they alternate. All singers are well versed in early music and its many kinds of tuning and they work quickly, with few rehearsals; Schuck encourages his ensemble to sing some works without a conductor. “Sirventes” is the permanent ensemble singing at Noon Songs, a new tradition of weekly Saturday services initiated by Schuck at the Hohenzollernplatz Church in Berlin. Among the choral works performed in these services, Stephan Schuck has re-introduced works of the early German polyphonic tradition, some of which have long been hidden away in archives and are now being revived and published. “Sirventes” also performs contemporary music, some of which has been written for the ensemble.

The Abu Gosh concert reviewed was one of devotional music: the program spanned the 16th to 20th centuries, the earliest work being two motets by Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605) - “O dulcis Jesu” (O Sweet Jesus) for seven voices in two four-part choirs and the four-voiced “Cantabo Domino” (I will sing to the Lord). In “Das ist meine Freude” (That is my Joy), Psalm 73 for double choir, composed by J.S.Bach’s second cousin Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731), the singers presented the motet’s joy and powerful writing, yet remaining within Johann Ludwig’s own expressive boundaries. To the most illustrious member of the Bach family, one of J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) most ambitious motets, “Singet dem Herrn” (Sing to the Lord) BWV 225 is a fine vehicle for the vocal- and musical brilliance of the “Sirventes” singers (Due to its musical- and technical challenges, Stephan Schuck finds the theory that this was a pedagogical piece difficult to accept). Moving between the silvery interweaving of intricate vocal lines, the highlighting of shades of meaning and the playful use of motifs in singing that pushed the boundaries of the human voice to being almost instrumental at times, Schuck and his singers contrasted dazzling sections with the tranquil sections of the chorale, producing an exciting and varied reading of the piece. In “Fürchte Dich Nicht” BWV 228, different in shape and character to the former piece, the singers brought out Bach’s interplay between the two choirs, sending related melodic- and textural fragments back and forth. They addressed each gesture and delighted the audience with the work’s solo content in a performance colored with beauty, grandeur and virtuosity.

The music of German organist Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785), probably a pupil of J.S.Bach, is seldom heard here, if at all. This is unfortunate when pondering the fact that Homilius was considered the greatest German composer of sacred music of his time. “Sirventes” provided festival-goers with an opportunity to hear three of his many sacred works. An important representative of the “Empfindsamer Stil” (Sensitive Style), the subjective emotional focus of his music is via dynamic contrasts, melodiousness, directness, noble simplicity and an intentional avoidance of contrapuntal treatment. “Sirventes” made this music accessible to the audience, addressing and coloring each section of the text with pleasing transparency.

Mendelssohn’s choral music is always rewarding. The “Sirventes” singers opened this section of the concert with “Denn er hat seine Engeln befohlen über dir” (For he will command his angels) from Psalm 91, for a-cappella double choir, written on the composer hearing of an attempt on King Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s life. The piece, blending elements from polyphonic Lutheran church music, the responsorial style of early Italian liturgical music and German folk songs, was later incorporated into “Elijah”. A contemplative piece, the singers gave its antiphonal character clear syllabic declamation, with careful control of dissonances, its Romantic utterances and harmonies lush. We then heard two anthems from Mendelssohn’s opus 79 (1843-1846) also for double chorus. No. 6 “Um uns’rer Sünden” (For our sins) was given a deeply personal and moving rendering. No.3, “Erhaben, o Herr, über alles Lob” (Lord, elevated above all praise) was stirring, with vocal lines sounding clean and bell-like.

An especially interesting item on the program was “Unicornus captivator” (A Unicorn Ensnared) by Norwegian pianist and composer Ola Gjeilo (b.1978), now living in the USA. Involved in film music and jazz piano, Gjeilo has written some very fine choral works. When a student in Switzerland, he came across this late-medieval, mystical manuscript in the Engelberg Codex stored in a Benedictine abbey; evoking colorful scenes, he mixes Gregorian chant with interesting rhythmical influences. The text compares Jesus with all the beasts mentioned in the text. Stephan Schuck and his singers brought out the naive awe and wonder of the text. They infused warmth and humor into the harmonic texture, juxtaposing the various madrigal moods with richly textured, dancelike Alleluia refrains.

Stephan Schuck and the Sirventes-Berlin Ensemble offered Abu Gosh audiences performance of a standard not often heard here; here was a-cappella music that was outstanding in precision, in stylistic accuracy, in its scope of vocal color and, above all, in the blending of the eight voices.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Michael Sanderling conducts the Young Symphonic Orchestra Jerusalem Weimar

The Young Symphonic Orchestra Jerusalem Weimar recently completed a concert tour of Germany and Israel, the final concert taking place in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on October 3rd 2013. This concerts series was directed by Michael Sanderling. Established in 2011, the orchestra selects its players from outstanding young musicians from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Liszt School of Music in Weimar. Rehearsing, performing and celebrating together, the orchestra provides the young musicians with the opportunity to meet in dialogue, musical and otherwise, based on the understanding of the Holocaust, of friendship and the strength of human encounter. The members meet on the basis of music as the platform of attentive listening, intuitive understanding and community. In addition to general orchestral repertoire, the Young Symphonic Orchestra’s programs always include works of Jewish composers who perished in the Holocaust and by some who survived it. The newly opened Weimar Archives are a source of new musical- and other material that will serve as a reminder of the German Jews’ extraordinary contribution to cultural life in Germany before the Holocaust.

The Jerusalem concert began with the national anthems of both Israel and Germany and words of welcome by Mr. Shimon Peres - President of Israel, by Prof. Yinam Leef – President of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and by Member of Knesset Mr. Reuven Rivlin. Reuven Rivlin praised Prof. Michael Wolpe, of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, for his energy and vision in establishing the orchestra, and spoke of the real value of music as forming a bridge of hope between both cities and two peoples.

‘Cellist and conductor Michael Sanderling was born and educated in Berlin. His career as ‘cellist has included teaching, principal roles in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, solo performances and chamber music. Today he has a busy international career as a conductor.

The concert opened with the “Passacaglia for Orchestra” opus 4 by Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996). Born in Hamburg, Goldschmidt enjoyed a successful career as pianist, composer and conductor in Germany. He fled to England in 1935 but, despite remaining there for the rest of his life, he, tragically, never managed to become well assimilated in England and it was only towards the end of his life there that he received recognition for the uniqueness and high quality of his music. The opus 4 Passacaglia (1925) is an early work and the first to win Goldschmidt acclaim in Germany. In a sense, it is his graduation piece from when he was studying Composition under Franz Schreker; the work won him the Mendelssohn Composition Prize. After its premiere, Goldschmidt sent the manuscript to his publisher, Universal Edition, and forgot about it. The work was discovered in the UE archives in 1994. Although an early work, it displays musical maturity and confidence. Sanderling and the Young Symphony Orchestra presented the essentially Romantic work in all its fine orchestration - from its mysterious low string melodies to powerful expression of a large orchestral sound – its mood remaining serious throughout.

We then heard Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s (1609-1847) Violin Concerto in e minor opus 64, with Yuval Herz as soloist. Born in 1989 in Jerusalem, Yuval Herz began playing the violin at age six. Today he enjoys an international performing career as a soloist and chamber musician, is the recipient of many prizes and has been supported by the America-Israel Cultural Foundation since 2003. A graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Herz is currently studying for a Performance Diploma at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. He plays on a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin, an instrument on loan to him from the America-Israel Foundation. Although the violin concerto was Mendelssohn’s last orchestral work, it is known that he had made sketches for it much earlier. Playing the work has brought fame to many a young virtuoso. Yuval Herz gave poignant expression to its melodic beauty, lending temperament and spontaneity to cadenzas, yet standing back to present Mendelssohn’s innate charm, modesty and taking on the work’s technical demands with total ease and brilliance. There was a sense that the young orchestral players were listening intently; they never covered violin solo sections and their playing was fresh and alive as they created rich, Mendelssohn-type orchestral timbres. Throughout the concert, the wind sections proved themselves commendably.

Gustav Mahler’s (1860-1911) “The Youth’s Magic Horn” – a cornucopia of songs - is based on anonymous poems collected by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. The Mahler settings are written for voice and orchestra. In this concert, baritone Guy Pelc sang four songs from the collection. Born in Israel in 1992, Guy Pelc has soloed much in Baroque works, in operas and with several of the Israeli Baroque Ensembles. He sang the role of Apollo in “Orfeo” of Monteverdi in a recording under Andrew Parrott and with the Taverner Consort. At the present, Pelc is studying voice with Marina Levit and Ido Ariel and orchestral conducting with Evgeny Zirlin. In a performance that was well balanced, profound, touching and finely detailed, Pelc and Sanderling’s players conjured up a detailed and evocative Mahlerian canvas, on which man and idyllic nature intermingle with birdsongs, marches, bugles and dances. Together they presented the composer’s complex human mix of tragedy, humor, melancholy, pathos, joy, strength, bitterness and self-mocking irony. Pelc has poise and quiet confidence. He showed awareness of the dramatic complexity and intensity of these songs. He sings German well, highlighting words to give emotional meaning to, as in “St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fish” a word like “glänzen”, (gleam) adding almost visual shine to the somewhat cynical scene taking place at a river. Pelc contended well with the orchestra, his upper register bright and powerful. The orchestra explored its rich palette of colors and with involvement and delicacy.

The concert concluded with Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) Symphony no.9 in b minor opus 54 (1939). Calling for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, three clarinets (one doubling E-flat clarinet) and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, tambourine, military drum, bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, xylophone, celesta, harp and strings, here was a work to celebrate the extensive resources of this orchestra. Composed in 1939, the symphony draws attention to the dramatic polarity of Shostakovich’s nature, this producing music unusually rich and complex, beginning with a large, somber first movement, followed by a light-hearted Scherzo and then a high-energy, whimsical Presto movement. The meditative first movement indeed reflects the mood of anxiety and desolation of the time it was composed. Sanderling’s reading of the work bristled with cantabile playing, nostalgia, fragility and dark and haunting moments juxtaposed with strident, confrontational sections. This is excellent orchestral fare and it was heightened by clean playing and some wonderful solos – many played by the orchestra’s fine flautists. The audience was delighted with the high standard of musicianship of Young Symphonic Orchestra Jerusalem Weimar and with Michael Sanderling’s communicative and elegant conducting.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Music for Oboe and Piano at the Austrian Hospice, Jerusalem

One of the festive events of the 150th anniversary of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in the Old City of Jerusalem was a recital on September 28th 2013 performed by oboist Demetrios Karamintzas and pianist Galya Kolarova. Prior to the recital, Father Markus St. Bugnyar, Rector of the Austrian Hospice, welcomed the many guests present.

Following completion of his Masters degree from the Julliard School of Music, Greek-American oboist Demetrios Karamintzas joined the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA in 2004, where he remained for seven years. At the same time he was active with the Barenboim-Said Foundation and Al Kamanjati Music School in Ramallah, where he helped to establish the first Palestinian youth orchestra. In 2011, he moved to Berlin, where he was appointed principal oboist of the Orchestra Mobile, a chamber orchestra performing throughout Europe. Bulgarian-born Galya Kolarova is a graduate of the L.Pipkov National School of Music (Sofia) and the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, also studying at the Accademia Musicale Santa Cecilia (Bergamo, Italy). As a soloist and chamber musician, she has performed throughout Europe, the Middle East and in China. In the summer of 2012, Karamintzas and Kolarova met when performing at the International Chamber Music Festival at Schloss Wonfurt, the historic home of the von Bismarck family. As a duo they have toured Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. They are dedicated to expanding the repertoire for oboe and piano by researching rarely-played existing works, transcribing works from other instrumentation and commissioning new works.

The program, “An Evening in Vienna”, opened with “Morceau de Salon” opus 228 by J.W.Kalliwoda (1801-1866), a conductor, violinist and composer more important during his lifetime than his subsequent place in history would indicate. Of the virtuoso Romantic repertoire for the oboe (the piano part certainly has much say) the artists took the listener through the piece’s many sweeping melodies, varied tempi and different moods, with Karamintzas ornamenting deftly and weaving melodic lines in an unapologetically sentimental manner. Kolarova was with him all the way, the piano part alternating between salon- and serious writing.

Galya Kolarova then performed two Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), beginning with the lyrical, carefully-structured Intermezzo in a minor (Andante). Composed in 1892, this piece comes from the opus 116 collection of piano pieces and reflects the explorations and intimate, somber and somewhat mystical expression of the older Brahms. From its furtive opening gestures, Kolarova’s careful strategy and sensitive touch take the piece through its reverie and personal utterance. This was followed by the Intermezzo in A major, the second of the six 118 “Klavierstücke” and dedicated to Clara Schumann. No less contemplative and autumnal than the former piece, Kolarova uses rich piano timbres to create another rewarding mood piece, drawing the listener into its lyrical but controlled painful underlay, with moments almost sounding suspended in time.

The Viennese-born musician Marcel Rubin (1905-1995), an Austrian Jewish composer, immigrated to Paris, where he studied with Darius Milhaud, then living in Mexico before returning to Vienna after the end of World War II. His Sonatina for Oboe and Piano was composed in 1927. A work in three movements, and one of the seldom-performed works in the two artists’ new repertoire project, it is has many hearty and whimsical moments, banter with asymmetric rhythms and it straddles the border between tonality and beyond. The artists’ performance of the work was clean, sincere and uncluttered, its ending placed suddenly there with a wink of the eye!

None of the works performed in the second half of the concert was originally composed for oboe and piano. Karamintzas and Kolarova opened with three Schubert Lieder, the vocal line played on the oboe. The song written in memory of the poet and dramatist Matthäus von Collin, “Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams) has never been one of the easier Schubert songs to perform. Undaunted by this fact, the two artists created its unique, almost motionless sense of the mystery of night, moonlight, dreams and desolation, allowing the melody’s slow, tense unfolding to take place gradually. Their performance of “Du bist die Ruh” (You are Rest and Peace) to a poem of Friedrich Rückert preserved the piece’s meditative character and inner poise as Kolarova and Karamintzas blended delicacy with richness of timbre, the Lied’s disarmingly simple melody and (Schubert’s) idealization of love evoking radiance and peace. Their playing of Schubert’s strophic “Ave Maria”, its text a German translation of a poem by Sir Walter Scott, was well shaped, the artists’ slight flexing of phrases totally together, their use of dynamics warm and sensitive - as in the building up of a crescendo culminating with a whisper! Such interpretation of this Schubert material is bound to set the lover of German Lieder thinking. Based on the surmise that one is familiar with this material, Karamintzas’ playing of the vocal lines was so expressive and subtle that the words were not missed. Kolarova presented herself as a fine Lied pianist, her shaping of small motifs as attentive as her emotional involvement in each song.

Schubert’s Lied “Ständchen” (Serenade) to words by Ludwig Rellstab, comes from the posthumous “Schwanengesang” D 957 collection, the composer’s final group of songs. Galya Kolarova played Franz Liszt’s piano setting of the song for solo piano. Her control of dynamics, her flowing style and sense of shading brought out Liszt’s brilliant use of high- and low voice verses, with the third in duet and his concept of orchestrating the piano in her evoking of the music’s sublime, magical mood and subtlety. Again, with no words, we were able to hear the piece’s sweet melancholy, the storm of the soul (Schubert’s own soul) and a glimmer of hope in the face of despair.

The final item on the program was Schubert’s Sonata for violin and piano opus 137 no.3, composed when the composer was around 19 years old, but only published after his death. Probably intended for domestic music-making, Schubert’s first three violin sonatas were published by Anton Diabelli as “Three Sonatinas, opus 137”; calling them “sonatinas” tied in with Diabelli’s aim of exploiting the lucrative amateur music market. Built on the Mozartean model, the g minor sonata creates equal partnership between the instruments. I have heard the flute and piano transcription of the g minor sonata, but find the oboe and piano version more striking in the work’s moments of passion and lacking in neither refinement nor contrast. Kolarova and Karamintzas offered a rich and appealing performance of the work, meeting the technical demands of Schubert’s writing and addressing Shubert’s lyrical melodiousness, his charm and modesty as well as the darker, more intense aspects of the composer’s mind. Karamintzas’ confrontational playing was matched by Kolarova’s sensitive and responsive pianism.

And there were two more treats in store: the fist being a hearty and entertaining performance of Johannes’ Brahms’ Hungarian Dance no.4 (1869) played by both artists in the original version for four hands on the piano! The second encore, with Karamintzas back on oboe, was a movement from Israeli composer Paul Ben Haim’s “Songs without Words”. Their playing of it presented the piece’s modality and oriental-tinged mood with poignancy, majesty and a sense of well-being.

Performed in the salon of the Austrian Hospice, this concert presented playing of a superb level and a thought-provoking evening of music.