Monday, February 23, 2015

Notes from the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival (4) Julian Marshall's "Out of the Darkness"

A unique work performed in the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, all the events of which took place in the halls of the attractive Dan Eilat Hotel, was Julian Marshall’s “Out of the Darkness” (February 6th). A graduate of the Royal College of Music, Julian Marshall (UK) has spent many years teaching, performing and writing light music, working in recording and as an improviser and solo jazz musician, also writing music for theatre. However, with composition becoming his consuming passion, Marshall has written a Missa Brevis, many jazz compositions for his own bands, songs, a film score for “Old Enough” and “The Clock of the Long Now”, a millennium commission written for the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra and several school choirs. His cantata “Out of the Darkness”, premiered on Winchester and London in 2009, written for mezzo soprano, choir and two ‘cellos, was inspired by a poem of the same name by Gertrud Kolmar (1894-1943), a German-Jewish poet who perished in the Holocaust. Writer and poet Jacob Picard has referred to her as one of the most important woman poets in the whole of German literature. “In 2008” writes Marshall “I stumbled across the poetry and letters of Gertrud Kolmar and was at once struck by what a remarkable woman and poet she was…Her writings suggest that even in the darkest of circumstances she was able to meet her fate with a stoic equanimity.” Her poem” Aus dem Dunkel” (Out of the Darkness) , written in 1937, evokes “powerful, dreamlike images of crumbling and decay – serving as an eerie foretelling of the imminent tidal wave of horror about to hit the world…” In the compositional process, Marshall looked for a musical language that would meet the darkness in the poem, but different influences came to him, a mix of styles, such as tango, bossa nova and more abstract ideas. The chamber cantata falls into seven sections, the sixth – “River” - being the only section not from Kolmar’s poem, but from two Sephardic ballads. Of this Marshall writes: “I have allowed myself this poetic license as River allows brief time for reflection away from the journey of the main text”. The work’s texts are in German, English and Spanish.

Performing the work, we heard ‘cellists François Salque (France) and Hillel Zori (Israel) with the Kölner Vokalsolisten (Germany) and Danish-born soprano Rosemarie Danziger (Israel); conducting was baritone Ansgar Eimann (Germany), a founding member of the Kölner Vokalsolisten. The vocal ensemble opened with low, held notes.
‘Out of the darkness I come, a woman,
I carry a child, but no longer know whose;
Once I knew it…’
Presenting its rich choral soundscape, the Cologne singers dealt well with the challenges of the choral text, its tonal and atonal moments (tuning forks used) and gentle clusters, its jazzy rhythms and harmonies, its drama and effects, always remaining focused on the text’s meaning within Marshall’s changing, multi-genre compositional style. Rosemarie Danziger’s lush, creamy vocal timbre gave beauty and expression to the dejected mood of the text, whether in solo singing or threaded through the rich musical collage, the ‘cellos (Salque, Zori) adding vehemence, intensity and resonance – both emotional and sonorous – to Kolmar’s richly varied depictions of what she passes on this sole journey. Spiraling to forte sounds, the work concludes with:
‘A cave awaits,
Its deepest chasm a shelter for the metal-green raven who has no name.
There I shall enter,
Under the aegis of those huge, shadowing wings
I shall crouch down and rest.
Somnolent, I shall listen to my child’s mute, growing word
And sleep, my face turned toward the East, until sunrise.’

When asked whether “Out of the Darkness” would fit into the category of a “Holocaust piece”, Julian Marshall answered thus: “My answer is both yes and no. It is, in as much as the text is, of course, deeply embedded historically in European and Jewish social context. It is also, however, for me, important to approach the piece in a broader context: as an enquiry into the critical issues of freedom and constraint that have relevance for so many today.”

A thought-provoking work within the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival’s musical fare, here was a collaboration between Israeli and overseas artists and the chance to hear a contemporary and very different work.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Notes from the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival (3) Accordone (Italy)

The 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, taking place in two halls of the welcoming Dan Eilat Hotel, featured two concerts of the Accordone ensemble. Founded in 1984 by Guido Morini and Marco Beasley, Accordone performs repertoire written before Bach and on period instruments. Inspired by the values, poetics and skills of early musicianship, Accordone is known for its new musicological approach to questions of interpretation, mostly performing works for voice and basso continuo from the 16th and 17th centuries. But the ensemble also brings together the interpretation of early music with new music, merging the cultural legacy of the Renaissance and Baroque with that of today. Placing emphasis on the theatrical aspect of this repertoire, Accordone’s performances are known for the remarkable voice and personality of tenor Marco Beasley and for its outstanding instrumental playing under the guidance of harpsichordist, organist and composer Guido Morini. “Accordone” means a “large chord”, the group’s name symbolizing both its well-coordinated and forthright sound and the cooperation of its musicians.

A sympathetic blend of traditional, composed and original music, “Storie di Napoli” (Stories of Naples) (February 4th) presented the distinctive character of Neapolitan music throughout the ages with scenes from everyday life and a picture of the Neapolitan people themselves, whose lives centre around love, the sea and the fatalistic trait of their existence. “To Gaol with Bakers” (anonymous), performed by Beasley and percussionist Mauro Durante, tells of the bakers’ strike of 1570, the bakers demanding a higher price for their bread. Joining the ensemble and Beasley in “Cicerenella”, an earthy, anonymous patter song hinting at the spirit of the commedia dell’arte, was dancer Silvia Durante. Durante danced to Guido Morini’s lively, instrumental “Rustic Tarantella. Morini’s forlorn and richly melodic love song “Serenade” was given a highly emotional rendering by Beasley, the concluding lines sung sotto voce and unaccompanied.
‘While you, my beauty, lie sweetly sleeping,
This sad and wretched heart bids you farewell,’
In another love song, with Morini choosing to accompany with the more modern association of the piano (rather than on harpsichord) the well-known “Dicitencello a ‘sta” (Tell It to Her) by R.Falvo and E.Fusco (1930), Beasley, seated, seemed to be confiding in the audience as friends of passion, recounting the unfortunate situation of a man’s heartbreak and how he is unable to tell the woman that he loves her. Comic relief was provided by Adriano Willaert’s (1491-1672) lighthearted Neapolitan villanelle “Vecchie Letrose” (Lazy Old Women), a vindictive and hilarious tirade addressed to the gossiping women of the town square and presented in pulsating, spirited rhythms. Also depicting different town figures was “Canzona alla Montemaranese” (Song in the Style of Montemarano). Describing the lives and thoughts of the sailor, the moneylender, the slave, the prisoner, the pilgrim and the galley slave from this village, the song mentions that all “walk with death”. Marco Beasley’s argument is that, if this is the case with each of us, why not dance rather than walk! A very different genre was singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla’s song “Caruso” (1986). Dedicated to Italian Naples-born tenor Enrico Caruso, the song, given an emotional and dynamic rendering by Beasley, tells of the pain and longings of a man about to die, looking into the eyes of a girl who was very dear to him. Italian composer and writer Vincenzo Valente (1855-1921) was known for his Neapolitan songs and operettas. “Tiempe Belle” (Good Times Past) (1916) is his most famous composition. Accordone’s arrangement of the slow, triple time song, with its small interludes, gave the song added class and charm, with Beasley singing and then waltzing with Perrone.

Several works on the program were based on the tarantella, the iconic popular dance of southern Italy. The term itself may refer to the dance or just to the music. Guido Morini’s lively “Tarantella Tapanella” (Rustic Tarantella) was danced by Silvia Perrone. Dressed in white and wielding a long scarf, she also joined Mauro Durante’s virtuosic solo tambourine performance of his own “Taranta Grecanica”. (The frenetic taranta [spider] dance, originally played on the tambourine, accompanied a woman dancer who would crawl, dance and finally collapse.)

Marco Beasley’s own “Tarantella I, II and III” opened with a stirring, vehement appeal for help for the suffering from love, with dancer Silvia Perrone, now dressed in red, appealing and feminine in movement. The second tarantella expressed even more despair:
‘Now that door, which I respect so,
I’ll smash it into a hundred pieces and goodnight!
Fair maiden, with those curls upon your brow,
Make me die, me, poor lover:
Cloud the brightness of the morning sun
And of the moon, when it rises in the east…’

With the Neapolitan’s heart worn constantly on his sleeve, and too frequently bleeding, old and new musical works proceeded hand in hand in this wonderfully rich and superbly crafted musical picture of Naples.

Created by Guido Morini, “La Bella Noeva” (Good News) (February 5th) was a different kind of program, offering a soundscape of early 17th century Italian music devoted to sacred, secular and traditional music. Here, Accordone combined informed early music performance with its signature articulacy and lively approach to text content. The program opened with works by Giulio Caccini (1550-1618), Beasley’s singing reflecting Caccini’s approach to monody that followed the intonations of speech. The last of this group of love songs was the greatly loved “Amarilli, mia Bella” (Amaryllis, my lovely one) in a fresh-sounding arrangement consisting of Beasley’s velvety singing to the intimate sounds of the lute (Gabriele Palomba), followed by an instrumental setting offering violin elaborations on the piece (Rossella Croce, Esther Crozzolara). Then three more love songs from the Italian Baroque’s large hoard – a personal reading of Biagio Marini’s (1587-1663) “Amante Lontano Della sua donna” (A Lover Away from his Lady) a song of abandonment and suffering, Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) masterfully economic but touching “Si dolce è’l tormento” (So Sweet is the Torment) and, finally, a happier love song - Giovanni Steffani’s “Amante Felice” (A Happy Lover). Of the program’s sacred works, two were original or with new additions: we heard Guido Morini’s instrumental “Concerto spiritual” and his addition of violin parts and a concerted ‘cello part to Venetian composer Alessandro Grandi’s “O quam tu pulchra es” (O How Fair you are). These were followed by a joyful, celebratory rendering of Monteverdi’s motet “Laudate Dominum”, its arioso style bristling in vocal and instrumental interest.

Guido Morini writes that they first heard “La Bella Noeva”, a wedding song from Liguria in northern Italy, performed by a local traditional group in a square in Genoa. Accordone performed its soothing, gently dissonanced marriage proposal setting to the delight of the audience. Concluding the traditional section and the concert itself was the ensemble’s performance of “Lo Guarracino” (The Pomfret). Marco Beasley is a born storyteller and his recounting of the story of the fish who decides he would like to marry, his courtship of the sardine, the resulting attack on him by her former lover the haddock and the battle that ensues was hearty. Beasley, the quick-change theatrical artist, pulls out all the plugs, playing all roles and singing the witty text at hell-for-leather speed, changing from lady’s voice to the gruff voice of the fish thug in delightful buffoonery and skilful satire.
‘Relatives and friends came out,
Some with clubs and knives,
Some with swords, daggers, rapiers;
One had an iron bar, another a pike;
Some came with almonds, others with hazelnuts,
This one with pincers, that one with a hammer,
And brought nougat and sesame cake...’

“La Bella Noeva” is a program rich in content and so representative of Italian life in its love songs and tenderness, its religious content, its spontaneity, its wholeheartedness, humor and warmth. In another exhilarating and thought-provoking performance, we were reminded that Accordone does not cut corners when it comes to high quality musicianship.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Notes from the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival (2) - the Geneva Camerata, conductor/pianist David Greilsammer, Steven Isserlis - 'cello

The Geneva Camerata presented two concerts at the recent Eilat Chamber Music Festival, which took
place at the Dan Eilat Hotel, (February 2nd to 7th 2015). Formed in 2013 by its musical director and conductor, Israeli pianist David Greilsammer, the orchestra comprises virtuoso, dynamic and versatile musicians of the younger generation. The GECA performs music of all periods and styles, in particular, early Baroque to Classical and contemporary repertoire, to electronic music, folk and jazz. Performing 35 concerts a year in Switzerland and further afield, the orchestra engages in a variety of eclectic projects.

Born in Jerusalem in 1977, David Greilsammer began his music studies at the Rubin Academy of Music at age six. Following studies at the Juilliard School under Yoheved Kaplinsky, in addition to working with Richard Goode, he made his debut Lincoln Center (New York), becoming Young Musician of the Year (French Music Awards). Considered a unique interpreter of Baroque, Classical and contemporary music, Greilsammer has won much acclaim for his performance of Mozart works. In addition to directing the Geneva Camerata, he is artist-in-residence at the Saint-Etienne Opera House, France, and the Meitar Ensemble (Israel). Greilsammer has appeared with many major orchestras. In the previous season he played and conducted all 27 Mozart piano concertos. His latest recording presents an intriguing combination – the music of Domenico Scarlatti with that of John Cage.

The Big Blue Hall of the Dan Eilat Hotel was packed to capacity for “The Reign of the Cello” (February 5th), performed by the Geneva Camerata (conductor: David Greilsammer) with soloist ‘cellist Steven Isserlis (UK). The concert opened with a suite from Marin Marais’ opera (tragédie lyrique) “Alcione” that was premiered in Paris in 1706. Conducting without a baton, Greilsammer and his ensemble produced a vivid, stylish and Baroque-focused performance, the buoyant energetic sound of the ensemble reminding us that the French opera orchestra was larger than that of its Italian counterpart. The performance was a celebration of Marin Marais’ fine orchestration and descriptive skills. This was followed by György Ligeti’s “Ramifications” (1969), a work written for two string ensembles tuned a quarter tone apart. The work presents timbres resulting for the two tunings, dense textures, the activity inside them and what the composer described as “micro-polyphony”, a reference to that used by such Renaissance composers as Isaac, Josquin or Byrd. The GECA players took on board the piece’s challenges. Then to a fresh, incisive reading of W.A.Mozart’s Symphony No.29 in A-major K.201, a masterpiece composed when the composer was 17 in the sunlit key of A-major, its grace and charm giving way to some dramatic moments…certainly fine festival fare. Remaining in the Classical style, we heard Joseph Haydn’s Concerto in C-major for ‘cello and orchestra, Hob. VIIB:1, a work with an interesting history. Composed between 1761 and 1765, the score was lost during the composer’s lifetime and only rediscovered in 1961 at the Prague National Museum. Isserlis, playing the first movement with courtly elegance, set the tone for his reading of the work, the Adagio movement spelt out in pure poetry, with the virtuosity of the final movement focusing on beauty of tone precision rather than on ‘cello acrobatics. Isserlis’ encore was the tradition Catalan song played by- and associated with Pablo Casals. As to the “Reign of the Cello”, we were left wanting to hear more of Isserlis’ playing.

“La Casa del Diavolo” (February 6th), another concert of the Geneva Camerata (conductor/solo piano David Greilsammer) took its name from Luigi Boccherini’s Symphony in d-minor opus 12 No.4. Composed in 1771, the symphony is dramatic, albeit not program music as such. The Geneva Camerata’s performance of it was fresh and energetic, making plenty of its brilliant string writing and grace, the harpsichord delicate and effective. The “devil’s house” seems to be ensconced in the final movement, its slow introduction leading up to the sinister main theme. Greilsammer and his players gave their all to this tempestuous finale. The Suite from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s most comical (and mean-spirited) opera “Platée” made for exciting listening, presenting Rameau’s predilection for changing moods, humor and most imaginative dance music with brisk tempi and fantasy. Adding to the musical depiction of “L’orage” (the storm), the players added some sound effects of their own. Henry Purcell’s Suite from his semi-opera “The Fairy Queen” was suavely presented and ornamented, with some sensitive timing and beautiful recorder playing. The jazzy improvisation that crept in seemed out of place. The evening finished with David Greilsammer performing the solo piano role of W.A.Mozart’s Piano Concerto no.9 in E-flat major K.271 “Jeunehomme”, an early concerto, composed by Mozart at age 21, a work, however, technically demanding and abounding in profound feelings (and some impudent comments.) Greilsammer, conducting from the piano, delighted with his clean passagework and agility, moments of tenderness and moments of candor, his articulate playing, not marred by excessive use of the sustaining pedal, mirrored by the orchestra’s bright signature sound. Mozart wrote a number of cadenzas to the concerto, as well as lead-ins with plenty of flourishes. Greilsammer’s own first movement cadenza was peppered with some jazz-tinted and unconventional elements.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Daniel Schnyder's opera "Abraham" is performed at the Redeemer Church, Jerusalem

Daniel Schnyder
Daniel Schnyder’s opera “Abraham” was performed at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 14th 2015. A production of the Düsseldorf Festival in co-production with the Kreuzkirche (Bonn) and the Johannes City Church (Düsseldorf), under the musical direction of Karin Freist-Wissing, the two-act opera was premiered in Düsseldorf in November 2014. There it was staged in costume, whereas it was presented in concert form at the Jerusalem Redeemer Church.

Born in 1961 in Zurich, Daniel Schnyder, now residing in New York, is both a renowned saxophonist and prolific composer. His wide range of activities includes performing, combining composition and improvisation, arranging and composing works for jazz artists, holding master classes and working as a consultant for major festivals, promoters and ensembles in an effort to bring the worlds of classical music, jazz and ethnic music together in innovative ways. His oeuvre includes opera, chamber music, concertos, orchestral music and works including ethnic material from many cultures. In 2014, Daniel Schnyder “recomposed” ‘Alceste”, Händel’s lost opera in a scoring that includes vibes and saxophone.

Performing “Abraham” was the joint church choir of 106 singers and the Düsseldorf Festival Orchestra together with the Edward Said Orchestra (32 players). Other instruments used were the oud and ney, electric piano and saxophones. Vocal soloists were Andreas Petermeier, Rena Kleifeld, Theresa Nelles, Georgios Iatrou and Raphael Pauss. Based on much research into texts and the biblical story of Abraham and Sara, Hagar and Ishmael itself, Schnyder also wrote the libretto to “Abraham”, most of which is in German, with a few sections of English text here and there. Surtitles projected onto the front wall of the church provided the text in English, below which were some video graphics reflecting the mood of each development of the story.

Daniel Schnyder’s musical style is one of many elements, those often emerging one after the other, juxtaposed, mixed or isolated: tonal music, atonal, polytonal, jazz, oriental and Klezmer music. For him, the orchestra is a many-layered tool of color and energy; his orchestration is forthright and gregarious. At times, the orchestra was too loud for the singers in the acoustic of the Redeemer Church, but the singers held their own well. In addition to its wealth of timbres, Schnyder’s music pulsates with captivating, jazzy rhythms for much of the work. His choral writing is expressive and coloristic; he enlists lush harmonies, pastel tonings, gorgeous clusters and sometimes speech to give his choir an expressiive quality, mostly singing together with the orchestra and, at times, in haunting a cappella sounds. In this work, the choir takes on the role of the chorus of a Greek tragedy, commenting on emotions and new developments in the storyline, offering counsel and strengthening belief.

Conductor Freist-Wissing and the orchestra and choir displayed fine, hand-in-glove collaboration, producing impressive results. All the soloists exhibited vocal and theatrical excellence – bass Andreas Petermeier’s superb timbre (as rich in the upper register as in the lower) and understated confidence were pleasing, as was his portrayal of the complex figure of Abraham; alto Rena Kleifeld, as Sara, initially warm and matriarchal, gradually becoming angry and jealous, was convincing, her voice well-rounded, engaging and powerful. Soprano Theresa Nelles, her voice agile and bright, gave a convincing and dramatically full picture of Sara’s young, beautiful slave Hagar, superbly conveying her dilemma at Sara wanting her to have a child with Abraham, her sensuousness and then her ensuing horror and vehemence at being banished to the desert from Abraham’s household. Giorgios Iatrou and Raphael Pauss, as Ishmael and Isaac, dealt well with the two more minor solo roles. A number of instrumental solos were threaded into the canvas of the work; especially poignant were those played on the ney (an end-blown flute prominent in middle-eastern music). Daniel Schnyder’s own exhilarating, dazzling saxophone solos were exciting, his playing concluding “Abraham (Ibrahim) Spiritual Opera at the Dawn”, an opera carrying his message that people of the three monotheistic religions should reconcile and live together in peace.The opera was performed at the Bethlehem Convention Palace the following evining.

Notes from the 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival (1)

The 2015 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, taking place at the Dan Eilat Hotel, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a high quality line-up of events and artists. Running from February 2nd to 7th, 15 concerts made up the actual festival, with master classes for outstanding young players taking place behind the scenes. Concerts were held in two well-appointed halls of the hotel – the Tarshish Hall and the larger Big Blue Hall – with the high standards of the Dan Hotel’s service and unflagging attention to guests enriching the festival experience. The concept of Eilat having an annual chamber music festival of a very high level was that of violinist Leonid Rozenberg; his determination and professional know-how have turned the dream into reality. Rozenberg continues to be the festival’s musical director. Gilli Alon-Bitton (Carousel Artists Management and PR) is artistic consultant and coordinator.

The opening event (February 4th) “Carpe Noctem” (Seize the Night) was an a-cappella concert performed by the Kölner Vokalsolisten (Germany), a small ensemble of six singers (three men, three women) who chose to perform works with associations of night – art songs, folk songs, spiritual music and more. Founded in 2007, the ensemble focuses largely on modern music, but chose here to perform works from the Renaissance to contemporary music. The singers achieve a superb blend and display fine intonation but some of the mood pieces fell short of convincingly creating the mystery of night in its expression of the uncharted and the exotic, and of creating the variety of moods, magic and the unexpected as suggested in several of the texts; we could have done with more moments of truly lush, gregarious sound from these fine singers. But there were memorable moments, to mention a few, the clean, uncluttered English style of sacred music in Henry Purcell’s “Evening Service”, lively voice-play and solid vocal sound in William Byrd’s “Vigilate” and an elaborate screen of tonal- and atonal sonorities in “Carpe Noctem”, a work by member of the ensemble Fabian Hemmelmann (b.1977).
‘…and the night threw a cloak all around
Much goes astray at night…
And my soul stretched its wings out far…’ (Eichendorff)

On his second Israeli visit, French pianist Éric Le Sage performed a recital of Beethoven and Schumann works (“Fantasies”, February 5th). An eminent representative of the French piano school, Le Sage is considered to be one of the leading pianists of his generation. He has recently completed recording all of Schumann’s piano music. The artist opened with L.van Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano No.21 opus 53 “Waldstein”, in playing that was subtle, singing and clean. Le Sage’s reading of the work gave voice to Beethoven in his middle period with a fine balance of intensity, transient idyllic moments and intimacy, with occasional glimpses into the composer’s stormy soul. Then to one of Beethoven’s last sonatas – No.30 opus 109. Following the tender opening of the work, Le Sage opened Beethoven’s palette of ideas to the listener, presenting moments of delicacy and fine simplicity never overloaded with sentimentality and moments of seriousness that were never overlaid with roughness. In his hands, the variation movement is a kaleidoscope of ideas to captivate, fascinate and challenge both player and listener. Le Sage is an artist who stands back with humility to present the musical text with objectivity. The second part of the program was devoted to music of Robert Schumann, beginning with the “Fantasiestücke” opus 111 (1851), in which Le Sage’s richly endowed sound and detailed reading of each of the three pieces was personal, gently flexed and indeed contrasted with the “personalities” of Florestan and Eusebius. Schumann’s motto for the opus 17 “Fantasie” was to be found in a poem of Friedrich Schlegel, referring to “the quiet tone that only he can hear who listens secretly”. To his bride Clara, Schumann wrote that the first movement “is probably the most passionate thing I have ever done”. Le Sage showed the audience through Schumann’s rich canvas of human emotion, a compelling mood always giving way to the vulnerable and nostalgic, with articulacy, sensitive timing between gestures and clear layering. Yet his playing also speaks of pianism and the beauty and magic of touch.

In “Duo Français” (February 6th) French artists - pianist Éric le Sage and ‘cellist François Salque - joined to perform a program of French music and Beethoven works. They set the scene with Gabriel Fauré’s Romance & Élegie, played with Romantic, virtuosic intensity (never foraying into the over-muscular), some magically fine-spun “whispered” sotto voce moments and French transparency, Salque’s solos providing a glorious example of Fauré’s melodic style, with Le Sage’s playing fragile, attentive and nuanced. Especially evocative was the second movement of Francis Poulenc’s Sonata in E major (completed in 1948), an autumnal Cavatina woven of filigree lines, Le Sage’s playing subtle and mellow. In Claude Debussy’s Sonata for ‘cello and piano, one of the three late chamber works of the composer’s creative life, the artists presented the wealth of ideas inherent in this experimental and enigmatic work – its daring utterances, references to jazz, its minimal moments and those of whimsy, placing all into a soundscape colored by brash pizzicati, ponticello passages, floating flautandi high up on the fingerboard, rhythmic interjections, short bursts of accented notes, sudden tempo changes and far-flung harmonic wanderings.

Working in well with the French repertoire on the program, Beethoven’s Sonata for ‘cello and piano No.1 opus 5, the young composer’s first, was joyful and communicative, with the celebration of piano and ‘cello now on an equal footing (thanks to the fact that Beethoven, sorely in need of a patron, was out to impress King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, who was a keen ‘cellist.) The question of balance was addressed sensitively by Salque and Le Sage as they brought out the challenging writing and sense of pleasure of a Beethoven not yet obsessed by his own troubled existence. Then, to one of the first works of Beethoven’s final period, a period of reflection - Sonata for ‘cello and piano No.5 in D major opus 102. Here the dynamic, full-blooded first movement was followed by the quintessential Beethoven adagio, introverted, moving and personal; here, both artists engaged in personal outpouring. In the following Allegro fugal movement, Le Sage and Salque, relaxed and displaying joie-de-vivre, giving way to each other in animated melodic exchanges, bringing to life Beethoven’s claim that to “make a fugue requires no particular skill” but that “today a new and really poetical element must be introduced into the traditional form.” This rewarding recital presented the fine tuning of music performed by two artists who have been performing together for many years.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pianist Michael Tsalka performs at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv

Michael Tsalka (photo:Rami Tsalka)
The last of a series of concerts keyboard artist Michael Tsalka has just performed in Israel was a piano recital at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv, on January 20th 2015. The first half of the concert consisted of works seldom (or perhaps never) performed on the local concert stage, a major reason being that some have been extracted from archives, a performing edition then assembled by him and musicologist Angelica Minero Escobar. Tsalka briefly introduced the works on the program. Born in Tel Aviv, Dr. Tsalka is known for his wide range of repertoire which he plays on all manner of historical keyboard instruments, often performing works of a composer on an instrument of the composer's time. The works at this concert were all played on the modern piano.

The program opened with Daniel Gottlob Türk’s (1756-1813) Sonata in a-minor, appearing on Tsalka’s CD “Six Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs”(1789); he recorded them on harpsichord, clavichord, tangent piano, spinet and piano at the University of South Dakota’s National Music Museum. Türk, an important keyboard pedagogue, wrote the most influential keyboard tutor of his day. Tsalka’s playing of the a-minor Sonata - the intimate moments, charm, delicacy of touch and clean pedaling, as well as the intensity of the “Allegro di molto con fuoco” third movement, all spoken in the accessible, direct language of the Classical style - was more than pleasurable.

Another neglected Classical-early-Romantic composer, in music history books, on the concert platform and in the recording studio is Czech composer Johann Baptist Waňhal (1739-1813), court composer, writer of much sacred music, symphonies, chamber music and smaller pieces for entertainment or pedagogical purposes, who eventually became a freelance composer, teacher and performer and one of Vienna’s most important and influential musical figures. In 2013, Michael Tsalka recorded two sets of the composer’s three sets of Keyboard Capriccios, works composed in the 1780s. At the recital, we heard the Capriccio in E-flat major Op.36, a work indicative of the richness of musical expression at the keyboard, as expressed through the piano. The artist presented each texture, mood and gesture of the music, from gently nostalgic to moments of joyful energy, all presented with a sense of well-being and through the focus of dynamic change, variety and the occasional harmonic surprise, so vital to the style and thinking of the time.

I would imagine that, for much of the audience attending this recital, hearing a work of German composer Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was a first. Ries, a fine pianist, whose oeuvre includes symphonies, piano concertos, a violin concerto, 26 string quartets and works of other genres, was Beethoven’s assistant and copyist, eventually establishing himself as an interpreter of Beethoven’s music. Beethoven was very positive in what he had to say about Ries’ compositions and pianistic ability, although he was known to have said that Ries “imitates me too greatly”. Sadly, Ries remains better known today as having been Beethoven’s pupil and biographer than for his own career, despite the fact that he ranked among the greatest pianist-composers of his day. Like most of his contemporaries, Ries was a prolific composer of variations, probably intended for the experienced amateur player. His Variations on a French March in F major show the influence of his teacher, but they also allow for a clear glimpse into the developing Romantic coloring and style. Tsalka’s playing presented the course of the march itself and the variations themselves, his playing poetic, at times intense, as he gave the piece a personal and exhilarating reading, yet never overstepping the piece’s intentions and sound world.

Luigi Cherubini’s (1760-1842) greatness lies in his operas and sacred music and not in his piano music. His involvement in the keyboard, however, is obvious in that he was one of the first composers to write for the mechanism of the fortepiano, the dexterity demanded to play it and the playfulness it offered. Michael Tzalka’s spontaneous, richly presented performance of Cherubini’s Fantasia for piano (or organ) in C-major reflected the influence of Baroque style on the composer’s thinking, both texturally and harmonically. I would be curious to hear Tsalka perform this work on fortepiano.

Following small-scale all-but-unknown pieces, Michael Tsalka chose to end his Tel Aviv recital with Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Sonata in b-flat major D960, the composer’s last sonata, the third written in quick succession in 1828, two months prior to his death. The last two years of Schubert’s life saw him increasingly more occupied on the darker side of the human soul and with a deeper sense of the “beyond”. This work goes beyond the genre of entertainment in its intimate searching; it is a tall order for both pianist and listener. Tsalka’s reading of it, however, brought out the meditative, inward-looking mood of the work, shaded with dreamy lyricism, devoid of anger or bitterness. His playing is lush and singing, intense and vulnerable and articulate in the layering of Schubert’s text, save for a few rough edges in the process of his own page-turning. The strength of the artist’s performance of this mammoth work was his sense of freedom and expression of Schubert’s humility in a work so often over-layered by pianists with subjective anger and rancor.

For his encore, Michael Tsalka took leave of Schubert's musings on death to send the audience off with the kindliness of what is probably Mozart's own KV137 piano arrangement of the variations of his Clarinet Quintet, played crisply, with charm, pleasing contrasts and poise.