Friday, December 2, 2016

Ensemble Colláge Tel Aviv makes its debut on the Israeli concert scene

Noa Chorin,Batia Murvitz,Igal Levin (photo:Galit Erez)

In “Romanticism without Words”, Ensemble Colláge Tel Aviv performed its inaugural concert in the Ram Baron Hall of the Israel Conservatory, Tel Aviv on November 26th 2016. Members of this new trio are Batia Murvitz-piano, Igal Levin-clarinet and Noa Chorin-‘cello. Beginning their collaboration early in 2016, the artists asked themselves what they wanted of the trio and what repertoire they wanted to be playing. With each player having performed much repertoire in Israel and overseas, it was decided to put all this experience together, drawing all the threads of their art into a collage of music. Igal Levin spoke of this particular concert as comprising works either written in the Romantic Era or with strong Romantic elements.

The recital opened with Three Songs without Words by German-born composer Paul Ben Haim (1897-1984), who emigrated to Palestine in 1933. Originally for solo voice and piano, the work has been performed in different settings of various solo instruments with piano. Batia Murvitz and Noa Chorin created the individual moods of each movement, the work's melodies influenced by Ben Haim’s newly experienced oriental sound world, one demanding a fresh- and less European harmonic language. With its delicately dissonanced seconds and Murvitz’s ample use of the sustaining pedal threaded through the opening Arioso movement, we enter a world of mystery, the underlying motif of the interval of the pastel-hued second following into the sweeping, energy of oriental melodic lines of the second movement, to be followed by a third movement based on an existing Sephardic melody, its flavour so well expressed by Chorin, with Murvitz providing an exotic backdrop for Ben Haim’s music of time and place.

Then to the Trio for Clarinet and Piano in A-minor opus 40 by Austrian-Jewish composer Carl Frühling (1868-1937). Born in Lemberg (today Lviv, Western Ukraine), he worked as a piano accompanist and teacher in Vienna, producing a substantial amount of instrumental and vocal music. Much of his oeuvre has been lost or neglected; sadly, he died poor and unknown. Edition Silvertrust, however, has published editions of some of his works. Internationally renowned ‘cellist Steven Isserlis  brought attention to Frühling’s clarinet trio, taking to its “unpretentious warmth, humour and the gentle charm of the style overall” (The Guardian, October 2000). Highlighting its appealing harmonic ideas, with clarinet and ‘cello sometimes doubling in melodies, at others, engaging in dialogue, the Ensemble Colláge players gave personal expression to individual roles and to the work’s dynamic contrasts, with phrase endings poignant and finely chiselled. The artists addressed the work’s essentially Romantic soundscape, its Viennese sense of well-being (the 2nd movement has a Viennese waltz) and the fact that the aim of salon music is indeed to entertain, so evident as audience and players delighted in the colourful and vigorous potpourri of melodies of the final movement.

In the last year of his life, Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) set himself the task of writing a sonata for each woodwind instrument with piano. He completed one sonata for oboe, one for bassoon and one for clarinet, each dedicated to an outstanding player of his acquaintance. The composer did not live long enough to write sonatas for flute and cor anglais, neither did he hear performances of the three he had completed. Taking a giant step back from his journey into Romanticism to Modernism, Saint-Saëns retreated into Classical mode to write his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano opus 167.  A fitting choice for the skills of pianist and clarinettist, Murvitz and Levin showed the audience through the different moods of the work, from the haunting clarinet melodies of the opening movement against the piano’s subtle rising and subsiding waves of eighth notes and occasional “comments”, the jaunty, whimsical offerings of the Allegro animato, to the Lento movement’s darkly imposing and ruminating agenda, with contrasts between low- and high registers in both instruments. In the upbeat, energetic last movement, Levin’s virtuosic and easeful playing made runs and fast arpeggios sound a breeze, the work then concluding with reference to the haunting theme of the first movement.  With Murvitz’ articulate and elegant playing addressing each gesture and detail of the music, there were moments where I felt she was a little too cautious for the acoustic of the Baron Hall and could take a stronger stand without drowning out the clarinet.

The event ended with Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Trio in A-minor opus 114 (1891), one of a group of late works inspired by a visit to the ducal court of Meiningen, where he heard clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, after which he wrote a letter to Clara Schumann claiming that it was “impossible to play the clarinet better than Herr Mühlfeld does”, even referring to him as “my dear nightingale”. At the work’s world premiere, the painter Adolf Menzel drew a sketch of Mühlfeld, depicting him as a Greek god! Murvitz, Chorin and Levin gave an involving and moving reading of the work, its wistful Brahmsian soul-searching and autumnal colourings ever present. Uncompromising in their attention to the balance of instruments, of intensity and tenderness, the artists gave poignant and personal expression to the shaping of melodic lines and the work’s lush textures, creating a performance rich in eloquence and warmth.  Here was chamber music performance at its best.




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