Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra in an evening of "Hidden Treasures of the Orchestra"

Maestro Shmuel Elbaz (photo:Natan Yakobovich)

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s second concert for the 2016-2017 season offered an evening of “Hidden Treasures of the Orchestra”, a concert in which the soloists were all members of the orchestra. This writer attended the event on November 5th 2016 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Shmuel Elbaz, the orchestra’s house conductor, directed the concert, briefly introducing the works on the program as well as the soloists.

The concert opened with J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.4, in which Daphna Itzhaki and Michal Tikotsky played the flute parts and concert master Gilad Hildesheim the solo violin role. In true Baroque style (but on modern instruments) most of the instrumentalists played standing rather than sitting. Vivid, graceful and buoyant, the Allegro movement set the mood for a lively performance, Itzhaki and Tikotsky’s playing delicately shaped and well-coordinated, with Itshaki’s echoing of Tikotsky in the Andante movement indulging in some tasteful ornamenting and gentle flexing. Following a couple of rough edges in his playing at the start, Hildesheim engaged in the ensuing violin sections splendidly and with some spontaneity (Brandenburg 4 has at times been referred to as a solo violin concerto!). Elbaz took the final seriously contrapuntal movement at a lively pace, its tempo nevertheless feeling comfortable and controlled, with direction that was clear and dynamic.

Composed when Antonin Dvořák was at the height of popularity in his native Czechoslovakia as well as in Austria, his Serenade in D-minor for winds, ‘cello and double bass opus 44 (1878) took him only two weeks to write. Bristling with Slavonic folk melodies, rhythms and harmonies – as in the sousedská (a calm Bohemian dance danced in pairs) in the wistful second movement – the score calls for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns, ‘cello and double bass, its sound world an association with the hearty sounds of the “harmonie” band, popular at the end of the 18th century.  Placed in a semi-circle around the stage, the NKO instrumentalists performed the work without the conductor; the players, watching each other closely, infused the work with freshness, energy and lightness, highlighting the unique timbral colours and textures offered by its specific instrumental combination. But, above all, the players created the work’s sense of well-being, its whimsy, its vigour and dynamic potential, as well as the jubilance of folk dances. Each player could be heard, with outstanding solos from oboist Hila Zabari-Peleg and clarinettist Igal Levin.

Then to Maestro Shmuel Elbaz’ solo – Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in C-major for mandolin and orchestra. Despite the fact that, of Vivaldi’s very many concertos, this is the only concerto for one mandolin, the composer’s writing sits very well with the instrument. And Elbaz brought out the colour, directness and vigour inherent in Venetian art, with orchestra and mandolin engaging in layered, Baroque-style dynamics. His easeful playing bristled with energy, his skilful ornamenting, at times quite florid, never concealing the melodic line. In the Adagio movement, he wove the fragile filigree strands of its arpeggios into a pensive mood piece. A little less microphone amplification would have sufficed…or perhaps none at all.

Prior to the next item, clarinettist Igal Levin recounted the curious story of how Felix Mendelssohn’s Konzertstück No.1 in F-minor for two clarinets and orchestra (the original version was for clarinet, basset horn and piano) came about. It was when Munich court musicians clarinettist Heinrich Joseph Bärmann and his basset hornist son Carl visited the Mendelssohn home in Berlin in 1832 that a deal was struck: the court musicians would roll up their sleeves and prepare the composer some Dumpfnudeln (steamed dumplings) and Rahmstrudel (sweet cheese strudel) if, while they worked in the kitchen, Mendelssohn would write them a piece for them to perform on their upcoming tour to Russia. Mendelssohn produced the work the same evening, only needing to add a few minor instrumental changes following its completion. He orchestrated it three weeks later. The challenging score attests to the high quality of the two Bärmanns’ playing. The NKO’s performance featured clarinettists Igal Levin and David Lobera. A work of three brief movements, its scoring of double winds – flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets – was indeed suited to the strengths of the NKO. Soloists and orchestra gave dedicated expression to the work’s hearty, lush Romantic textures, its drama and songful melodies, its tranquillity and agitation, with Levin and Lobera engaging in musical banter, speedy figurations and exuberant hell-for-leather runs.

Bringing the orchestra together to conclude the concert, we heard Josef Haydn’s Symphony No.96 in D-major, the first of his “London Symphonies”, erroneously named “Miracle” due to a near-catastrophe when a chandelier fell from the ceiling when Haydn was conducting Symphony No.102 in London in 1795. Elbaz led his orchestra in playing of substantial orchestral quality, of Haydnesque good humour and richness of contrasts.  And there were plenty of solos here, too, some minor utterances, others more generous: the two principal violinists are featured in solo passages, as well as all principal wind players. In the Andante (2nd movement), the focus is indeed on the winds and first violin, the latter possibly a token of appreciation of Haydn to impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who, in addition to producing Haydn’s London concerts, happened to also be his concertmaster.  In the Trio of the Menuetto (3rd movement) we once again heard outstanding oboist Hila Zabari-Peleg in an eloquent rendering of the Ländler.  Altogether, Maestro Elbaz and the NKO presented Haydn’s light, expressive scoring and appealing earthiness, bringing to an end an evening of fine music, in which the orchestra’s treasures certainly did not remain hidden!


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