Friday, February 24, 2017

"Schmozart" - a musical clown show at the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival

Avigail Gurtler Har-Tuv, Fyodor Makarov (photo:Maxim Reider)
Having great difficulties in getting up in the morning, Mozart is writhing under a blanket, losing his pillow, even falling off the stage in his morning stupor. A very different event to all the others at the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, “Schmozart” (Concert No.9, February 3rd) a show featuring Israeli actor and clown Fyodor Makarov as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was attended by at least as many adults as children. Staged by the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, it was produced by Losha Gavrielov. Makarov and Gavrielov, both born in the former Soviet Union, share a similar background in the world of clowning.

An imaginative take on Mozart’s life, the storyline is based on Mozart’s poor financial state…in fact, due to his inability to pay the electricity bill, the lights on stage actually go out. Baritone Robson Bueno Tavares (Brazil/Germany) takes the role of Mozart’s dissatisfied landlord. To put his finances in order, Mozart comes up with the idea of opening a school for singers. Along comes soprano Roxana Mihai (Romania/Germany). She is immediately infatuated with Mozart but her sentiments are not reciprocated. Mozart, however, falls in love with another student to the school – (Israeli soprano) Avigail Gurtler Har-Tuv, whose stage personality and coloratura added flair to the performance - but she is more than demonstrative in her rejection of him. Mozart arrives at his wedding, hoping to marry Gurtler Har-Tuv, but ends up marrying Mihai.
Throughout the show, the three singers, participants in the Vienna-Tel Aviv Connection (a five-day intensive seminar for singers tutored by Sylvia Greenberg, Rosemarie Danziger and David Aronson), gave outstanding performances of arias from Mozart operas, the Red Sea Music Center Chamber Orchestra (conductor: Leonid Rozenberg) delighted festival-goers with hearty Mozart overtures and we heard an international ensemble of instrumentalists, with Israeli pianist Michael Zertsekel joining the instrumentalists and also performing solo. So, accompanying the droll story, the audience was presented with a rich selection of Mozart works. And Fyodor Makarov’s skilful, imaginative and entertaining clowning presented Mozart as an optimistic and appealing character, if not thoroughly naïve! 

Photo: Maxim Reider

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ensemble PHOENIX to present "Glamour and Fashion: London in the 18th Century"

Flautist Moshe Aron Epstein (photo:Eliahu Feldman)

In Georgian times, Britain offered its citizens a wide range of entertainment. In London and the provinces, purpose-built auditoriums were built for the performance of plays and music (it was a time of much theatre music), with London’s Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Haymarket theatres, each seating several thousand people, abuzz nightly. Audiences included people of means seated in the boxes, with poorer people squeezed into hot and dirty galleries. Audience behaviour there was generally unruly. The ostentatious pleasure gardens became a special feature of the London entertainment scene: at the Ranelagh Gardens, boasting sweeping avenues, a Chinese Pavilion and a fountain of mirrors, concerts were held in the 200-foot-wide Rotunda. It is known that 12,000 people flocked to the Vauxhall Gardens to watch Händel rehearse his “Fireworks Music” in 1749. By the second half of the 18th century, there were many spas and over 60 fashionable pleasure gardens in London as well as in a number in provincial towns, modelled on those of London. The public was also drawn to riding the new hot air balloons, the many fairs, exhibitions and to the viewing of a variety of strange beings and events. The latter included giants, midgets, the obese, unfortunate and the strange people, imported exotic animals, animal baiting and cock-fighting, not to speak of such curiosities such as the famous “performing pig” with its ability to spell and trained bees and birds, but also visits to view the inmates at London’s hospital for the insane – “Bethlehem”! “Passion and Madness”, one of Ensemble PHOENIX’s most fascinating and more theatrical programs, presented stories and music – mad songs and instrumental – inspired by the goings-on in the Bethlehem Hospital and the public’s fascination with them.

Once again, Ensemble PHOENIX is about to turn its focus to Georgian London, a period of unprecedented prosperity and of culture then becoming available to a wider cross-section of the public, in particular, the new middle class – successful merchants, traders, craftsmen and professionals. “Glamour and Fashion: London in the 18th Century” will present audiences with fine instrumental music from London’s cosmopolitan musical scene of the second half of the 18th century, its vibrant events enhanced by the arrival of such colourful figures as Felice Giardini, Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel and by the influx of such outstanding foreign musicians as Haydn and Stamitz.  Audiences will have the opportunity of hearing works of composers popular in their lifetime but not frequently enough heard on today’s concert platforms. Artists performing in this program will be Moshe Aron Epstein-Classical flute, Lilia Slavny-violin, Marina Minkin-harpsichord and PHOENIX founder Myrna Herzog-direction, cello.

Sat. 04 March at 20:30
Haifa, The Studio, Beit Hecht, 142 HaNassi St., Carmel Center 
Reservations: 04 836-3804

Sun. 05 March at 20:00
Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Mormon University, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem
Tel: 03-6265621, concert details:

Thu. 09 March at 20:30
The PHOENIX Salon, Raanana

Sat. 08 April 2017 at 11:00 (Rachel Ringelstein-violin)
The Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem
Reservations: 02-641-4250



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Notes from the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival - "Portraits" and "To the Memory of a Great Artist"

Marianna Vasileva,Mikhail Bereznicky,Hillel Zori,Martti Rousi (photo:Maxim Reider)
Concert No.1 “Portraits” (February 1st) of the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival opened with Robert Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro in A-flat major op.70 for horn and piano, composed in February of 1849. Written for the newly-developed valve horn that began appearing in orchestras in the 1830s, the work reflects Schumann’s interest in wind sonorities. But it also reflects his wish to publish works, especially, for the “Hausmusik” (house music) market tailored to amateur music-making in the home. In which case, it is not surprising that the A-flat Adagio and Allegro was also published with alternative parts for either violin, viola or ‘cello. Following a rehearsal of it at the Schumann home with Clara Schumann at the piano and the Dresden Orchestra’s first horn player, Clara declared it a “magnificent piece, fresh and passionate…” At the Eilat concert, we heard it performed by Israeli artists Hillel Zori-‘cello and Amir Katz-piano. Their performance of the work was imaginative, expressive and multifaceted, the broad melodic lines of the Adagio richly coloured, lyrical and tender, the rondo of the Allegro marked “rasch und feurig” (fast and fiery) a mix of intense- and calm moments, enhanced with the déjà vu of the Adagio. What the artists handled exquisitely was the work’s fine balance of solo and background in dialogue of both statement and listening.

Whereas Schumann in 1849 had written “I have never been busier or happier with my work”, his Sonata in A-minor for violin and piano op.105 No.1, composed at a feverish pace within a few days in September of 1851, reflects the composer’s altered mental state; he was now suffering from violent mood swings and was tormented by demons. Performing the work at the Eilat Festival, violinist Grigory Kalinovsky (USA) and Amir Katz (piano) set the scene, with the profound searching ruminations of its opening moments, depicting Schumann’s unsettled soul and sense of striving. The artists made use of subtle rhythmic flexing and dynamic variety to achieve this, punctuating the music’s course with moments of fragility. With Kalinovsky’s delicate, finely-chiselled cantabile playing, the artists created the introverted poignancy of the more serene and kindly Allegretto (second) movement, with its enigmatic ritardandi and pauses, to be followed by the shadowy nervousness of the third movement, with Katz’ weighty chordal statements spelling severity in the already disturbing, unrelenting sixteenth-note perpetuum mobile of the movement. Katz and Kalinovsky gave an intelligent voice to the work’s passion, its poetic ideas and richness of textures, making a strong case for hearing and experiencing this work more frequently on the concert platform.

Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for viola and piano in F-major op.11 No.1 (1919), an early work not yet epitomizing the composer’s role on the European avant-garde scene, nevertheless represents some important influences and ground-breaking aspects in the composer’s career. The first of these is what would become his prolific writing for the viola, which was to become his main performance instrument. Then there is his interest in the duo sonata medium. No.1 of his opus 11 reveals the influences of Brahms, Reger and Debussy. We heard the sonata performed by violist Mikhail Bereznicky (Russia) and pianist Michael Zertsekel (Israel). Consisting of three movements played in continuum, the mystery-hued opening Fantasie provided a fine vehicle for Bereznicky’s wonderfully smooth tone and virtuosic playing and Zertsekel’s magical and flexible touch, with their concept of the Fantasie taking the listener to the unexpected by means of fine balance, eloquent phrasing and diverse textures. In playing that was virtuosic, at times dramatic, at others delicate, they addressed the shape and meaning of each gesture.
If the idea of festivals is to offer less-performed repertoire, Anton Arensky’s “Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky” for string quartet op.35A did just that! Performed in Concert No.16 (February 4th) titled “To the Memory of a Great Artist”, the work was originally composed as the slow movement of his String Quartet No.2 in A-minor (1894). The piece, unique in that it is scored for violin, viola and two ‘cellos, was written as a tribute to Arensky’s friend and colleague Pyotr Tchaikovsky a year after Tchaikovsky’s death. The variation theme is that of “Legend: Christ in His Garden” from Tchaikovsky’s obscure Sixteen Children’s Songs op,54, the song actually a translation into Russian of “Roses and Thorns” by American poet Richard Henry Stoddard. Arensky’s treatment of the theme and seven variations is more-or-less conventional. The final variation, however, presents Tchaikovsky’s theme in reverse. (Arensky explained this as imitating military funerals, in which guns were held upside down.) With the ‘cello-weighted dark sonorities contributing to the piece’s elegiac mood, violinist Marianna Vasileva (Israel/Russia), violist Mikhail Bereznitsky (Russia/Hungary) and ‘cellists Martti Rousi (Finland) and Hillel Zori (Israel) addressed the work’s personal message, its contrasts, embellishments, its mystery and pathos and what sounded to me like a prayerful aspect (its homophonic playing possibly evoking liturgical chant), all four artists exploring the score’s tonal and textural possibilities and Arensky’s forays into all registers of the instruments. Especially moving were the solos.

“Forgive me, dear friend” Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck in November 1880, following her request that he write a piano trio “I would do anything to give you pleasure, but this is beyond me…I simply cannot endure the combination of piano with violin or ‘cello…” Four months after Tchaikovsky’s answer to von Meck, Nikolai Rubinstein, founder of the Moscow Conservatory, died, leaving Tchaikovsky bereft at the death of his teacher, mentor and long-time friend. Some months later he began work on the Piano Trio in A-minor op.50, his only work for piano and strings, dedicating it “To the Memory of a Great Artist”. A large-scaled chamber work in all respects, it basically consists of two movements – “Pezzo eligiaco” (Elegiac piece), followed by a monumental series of eleven variations, its concluding “Variazione finale e coda” powerful and orchestral, also relating to the opening themes and message of the work. There is no denying the significant frames of reference inspiring the work - the composer’s grief on Rubinstein’s death, the virtuosic (at times, concerto-like) writing for piano, (Rubinstein was a superb pianist) and the element of folk melody (Rubinstein was known for his liking of folk music.) Yet, hearing violinist Grigory Kalinovsky, ‘cellist Hillel Zori and pianist Amir Katz performing the work at the Eilat Festival brought home how many other aspects there are to performing it beyond the stamina needed for the gargantuan work: the artists created the fitting coloration as suggested by Tchaikovsky’s score, their delicate balance of solo-, duo- and trio moments in the collage of articulate strands ever present as they gave expression to the work’s deep intensity but also to its lyricism and warmth. Their treatment of the first movement, its sweeping melodies bathed in melancholy, was wholehearted, their small hesitations suggesting a sense of spontaneity and the moment. As to the second movement variations, the artists gave a bold voice to Tchaikovsky’s kaleidoscope of ideas – bells, a music box, a waltz, a complex fugue, a Mazurka, to mention just a few – and its abundance of textures and moods. But then we are confronted by the return of the composer’s dark despair, the piano’s statement of the funeral march and the fading out memory of the opening gesture in the strings. It was a poignantly thought-provoking performance, one of the finest and most gratifying of the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival.

Grigory Kalinovsky,Amir Katz,Hillel Zori (photo: Maxim Reider)

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem hosts Reinhard Goebel and Raimund Nolte in a concert of works of J.S.Bach and his four composer sons

Maestro Reinhard Goebel (photo:Christina Bleier)

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem hosted conductor Reinhard Goebel (Germany) and bass baritone Raimund Nolte (Germany) in a concert focusing on “The Bach Dynasty”. This writer attended the event in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on February 14th, 2017. The program featured works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and those of four of his sons.

The concert opened with music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784), Bach’s second child (from his first wife, Maria Barbara) and eldest son.  Sinfonia in D-major F.64 is a secular piece which was, however, probably used as the overture to his Pentecost cantata “Dies ist der Tag, da Jesu Leidenskraft” from the time Wilhelm Friedemann was music director and church organist at the Church of Our Lady in Halle as of 1746.  Performed in the standard orchestral setting of the style straddling the Baroque and Classical styles - strings and woodwinds (here, not on period instruments), with the presence of the harpsichord playing thorough bass and supported by the ‘cellos - Goebel gave the work a hearty reading, presenting its many fetching, user-friendly melodies, its warmth and energy and its fine woodwind scoring, especially in the second movement, in which the flutes (Esti Rofé, Avner Geiger) featured in tandem. Much of Wilhelm Friedemann’s oeuvre has been destroyed or lost and more the pity. His bold, original and innovative music deserves a more prominent place on today’s concert platforms.

Then to J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3, written possibly when Bach was in Weimar, a work showing Bach’s predilection for the Italian concerto and its characteristic fullness of sound. Scored for strings and harpsichord (with bass), the way the work is written leaves the conductor to decide who the soloists really are to be in any one concert and Goebel’s decision may have surprised some members of the audience: with the rapid (at times breakneck) tempi he chose, it seems that all players, ‘cellos included of course, were involved in virtuosic performance, the listener hastily casting his eyes from one instrument or section to another as each the orchestra’s fine players took up the solo challenge and most effectively. It was a performance of breathless excitement. As to the Phrygian half cadence - two chords in all – making up the second movement, Goebel leaves them “au naturel”, bare of the improvised violin flourishes often heard adorning them.

We then heard “Pygmalion”, a cantata for bass and orchestra by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795), J.S.Bach’s fifth son and sixteenth child (one of the six surviving children of the thirteen born to Anna Magdalena Bach) and often referred to as “the Bückeburg Bach”: Friedrich Bach spent his entire professional life as concertmaster of the Schaumburg-Lippe court in Bückeburg. A secular cantata to a text of Berlin poet Carl Wilhelm Ramler, “Pygmalion” represents the monodrama genre of the short-lived 18th century melodrama style. It tells of Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor who carves a woman out of ivory and falls in love with her. After making offerings at Aphrodite’s altar, the sculpture becomes alive and the sculptor marries her. Considering Friedrich Bach’s somewhat unfortunate reputation for being a bourgeois personality and a lesser composer than his three very famous brothers, it must be said that this finely crafted music reflects the strongest traits of his great siblings. The music for “Pygmalion” is indeed substantial and most graceful, the ample recitatives presenting the content of Ramler’s text with effectiveness and potency. Raimund Nolte’s voice is warm and bright in all registers, both powerful and compassionate, his singing easeful, articulate and clean. Highlighting key words and the various feelings emerging along the work’s emotional course, his performance, both tender and dramatic, was involving, expressive and convincing as he kept keen eye contact with his audience, his facial expression giving meaning to the text. Played elegantly, instrumental passages threw light on the agenda of each moment. Had a World War II airstrike not wiped out the library housing J.C.F.Bach’s manuscript collection, we might be hearing more of this composer’s works in today’s concert halls.

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), the “London” Bach, was J.S.Bach’s eleventh and youngest son.  In 1762, he took up the position of composer to the King’s Theatre in London, for which he wrote a number of operas. He also wrote orchestral-, chamber- and keyboard music and some cantatas. In 1764, he established his fashionable London concert series together with viol player Karl Friedrich Abel. Employed as music master to Queen Charlotte and her children brought him both financial gain and social connections. Symphony opus 6 No.6 was published in 1770. Its fiery Sturm und Drang style is right down Reinhard Goebel’s alley as he led the players through the dazzling, dramatic string tremolandi and sforzati of the opening movement (contrasting them with intimate moments) and into the restless urgency of the third movement. The Andante piu tosto adagio (second movement) for strings alone was poignant and finely tempered.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s fifth child and second son, a composer more-or-less leaning towards the Empfindsamkeit (sensitive) style, was a free spirit in his composing, as he was in life.  With audiences of the time judging a work by its degree of novelty, those of C.P.E. Bach ticked all the boxes! Symphony in D-major Wq.176 (H.651), the final work heard in the Camerata concert, was one of the early symphonies composed some time from 1755 to 1758 in Berlin. Under Goebel’s baton, the concise symphony, complete with the composer’s unconventional signature surprise moments, sudden contrasts and joie-de-vivre, moved seamlessly through the movements with buoyant vigour and vividly coloured orchestral playing, to be gone with the wink of an eye.

Musicologist, violinist and conductor Reinhard Goebel (b.1952) has specialized in early music on period instruments. In 1973, he established Musica Antiqua Köln. He has researched and revived interest in music of Johann David Heinichen, Schmelzer, Biber and members of the Bach family.

For several years, Raimund Nolte was a violist with Musica Antiqua Köln. In his opera career, he has appeared in numerous opera houses in Germany, Austria, Strasbourg and France. As a concert soloist, he works with major conductors, also appearing in leading European festivals. His recordings range from music of Bach to that of Bernstein.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Maestro Christian Lindberg and the Israel Kibbutz Netanya Orchestra invite "The Unexpected Guest" to Concert No.3 of the 2016-2017 season

Maestro Christian Lindberg (photo: Mats Baecker)
Concert No.3 of the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s 2016-2017 concert season offered plenty of surprises in the concert titled “The Unexpected Guest”. Christian Lindberg (Sweden), the orchestra’s musical director as of this season, conducted and soloed on trombone. Tuba player Øystein Baadsvik (Norway) was guest soloist. Soloists from the NKO were Guy Sarig (trumpet) and Miki Lam (English horn). This writer attended the concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 28th 2017.

The program opened with an evocative and generously shaped reading of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave” Overture, giving expression to the composer’s musical description of the stunning natural surroundings of the west coast of Scotland which had inspired him on the walking tour he took there at age 20. Hearing the robust, fresh and exhilarating sound offered by the NKO, one tends to forget that this is a chamber orchestra. Firing the listener’s imagination were the sounds suggesting the ebb and flow of the sea, the dramatic crashing of waves on rocks as well as nature’s tranquil mystery, with bassoon, clarinet, viola and ‘cello solos adding beauty to the descriptive piece.

Then to Christian Lindberg’s “Panda in Love” for tuba and orchestra, in which Øystein Baadsvik played the solo role. Composed eight years ago, Lindberg told the audience the story behind the work – a whimsical story, abundant with personal ideas and feelings, but one with a message. Not avant-garde in any way, the work itself is basically tonal and lush in orchestration, giving much prominence to the tuba and dedicated to Baadsvik, one of today’s most prominent tuba players. Baadsvik, playing by heart, gave expression to the work’s lyrical, Romantic melodies, to its intense moments and its humor. Such a work must, of course, include a bear waltz, but there were also some jazzy moments and moments where Baadsvik also sang into the tuba in tandem with blowing it, sometimes playing in dialogue with the percussionist. Baadsvik’s vivid, virtuosic tuba playing was easeful and spontaneous, dashed off with joy and panache.

We then heard the world premiere of Øystein Baadsvik’s “Fnugg Red” tuba, trombone and orchestra. Here is what the composer said in an interview in January of 2017: “’Fnugg Red’ was composed as a variation on a theme called ‘Fnugg’, which I wrote many years ago, (‘Fnugg’ is Norwegian for “snowflake”). And…I don’t know…maybe because it is very light and very different in weight from the tuba…. The music was also inspired by the Australian didgeridoo, and I use the tuba in the way they play the didgeridoo. Another technique in the piece is something called “lip beat”, a technique I myself invented, creating rhythms that do not sound like specific pitch on the instrument; they sound more like a drum or other percussion instruments…a little fun thing I have added to the piece. There is also some inspiration from American fiddle music. Aaron Copland wrote a piece called ‘Rodeo’, in which there are some elements from this American fiddle, bluegrass tradition. Plus, of course, I have incorporated Christian Lindberg’s virtuosic trombone playing into the whole work.” The short work is full of catchy rhythms, different instrumental timbres and plenty of dynamic change. It makes use of a huge variety of tuba-playing techniques, including that of singing into the tuba to produce differential tones (i.e. 3 notes). Featuring the high-quality musicianship and the energetic, positive personalities of both soloists, the message that shines through is that music is fun and is there for pleasure and entertainment. For an encore, Øystein Baadsvik gave a poignant, jazzy tuba solo rendition of the Norwegian song “Trouble”.

One of the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s new projects is a competition for composition students of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music. This concert featured “Crows” by silver medalist Ari Rabeno (b.1990, Jerusalem). Lindberg talked of how impressed the jury was of how Rabeno had combined humor and seriousness in his short orchestral piece. Referring to the subject of the fanfare in his program notes, the young composer writes that crows are an inseparable part of city life, mentioning his ambivalent approach to them. “Its spine-chilling screeching and aggressive vindictive character make the crow a most frightening creature. Together with this, something of these traits is bound to also arouse feelings of closeness and identity. I guess their wisdom, cunning and jealous tendencies make crows and humans quite similar…” Rabeno’s succinct and effective orchestral score, giving the double bass plenty of prominence, was descriptive and imaginative, with its many single, pointalistic instrumental utterances and well—depicted, agitated crow squawks. Rabeno’s fine miniature made for good listening!

Another “unexpected guest” to the Israeli concert platform was Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City” for trumpet, English horn and orchestra, the choice of which was explained by Lindberg, who claimed that “this orchestra has something different – personalities and great artists.” Soloists were orchestra members Guy Sarig-trumpet and Miki Lam-English horn. Premiered in 1941, here was another work with a programmatic background: it started as incidental music to a play by Irwin Shaw about an assimilated Jew – Gabriel Mellon – and his younger brother, the tense and troubled young trumpeter – David Melinkoff. The play closed after two preview performances; a year later, Copland rewrote the original music into its present setting. Needless to say, the trumpet solo represents Melinkoff. Copland’s strategy for pairing trumpet with English horn was not only to have contrasting timbres – it was also to give the trumpeter pauses between his solo sections. English horn solos are rare, as are gentle trumpet solos. Sarig, Lam and string orchestra gave poignant and clean expression to this mood piece, with a few gently-infused American and Jewish elements, its spaciousness and introspective atmosphere reflecting the loneliness and alienation of city life in what Copland claimed was a “rather unusual showpiece for the two soloists.”

Returning to Felix Mendelssohn to wind up this decidedly unique program, we heard a work with an interesting story behind it. Only days after composing his Symphony No.8 in 1822, one of 13 written for string orchestra, Mendelssohn rescored it for full orchestra within three days. The work includes a number of clear references to some Mozart works. Christian Lindberg’s direction combined the work’s youthful vivacity with the subtelty Mendelssohn’s writing was already displaying at this young age. Especially beautiful was the NKO’s cantabile performance of the Adagio movement, its dark timbre enhanced by the warm tonings of solo viola and flute utterances. The work signed out with the exuberance of Mendelssohn’s sophisticated fugal writing.

In this concert, Christian Lindberg, with his sense of humor and ebullience, showed the audience that informality and, at times, hi-jinx do not rule out high quality and profound performance. They do, in fact, bring the audience in closer contact with conductor and players. For their final encore, Lindberg and the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra were once again joined by Øystein Baadsvik for a jaunty performance of a Brahms Hungarian Dance.

Øystein Baadsvik (photo:Geir Mogen)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

When did you last hear all 12 of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes played as one work? Hommage an Liszt - Amir Katz performs an all-Liszt recital at the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival

Photo: Maxim Reider
The 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place from February 1st to 4th. It was hosted by the Dan Eilat Hotel, with concerts taking place in the hotel’s Tarshish Hall and the Big Blue Hall. As befits a festival, the Eilat performances offered some programs that were a step away from mainstream concert fare. One of the festival's most unique and significant concerts was Israeli pianist Amir Katz’ “Hommage an Liszt”, a complete recital of Liszt Études (February 2nd). In his program notes, Katz reminds the listener that these pieces “represent the peak of writing for piano of the Romantic period”.

Katz takes the listener into the world of Franz Liszt's Études with the much-loved “Liebestraum” (Dream of Love) No.3, Liszt’s setting of Ferdinand Freilgrath’s impassioned “O lieb’, so lang du lieben kannst” (Oh love, as long as you can love). Known for its singing melody and delicacy, Amir Katz, chose some daring pedalling, orchestrating the nocturne’s demanding sequences with its network of complex “undercurrents”, its farewell leaving the listener once more in the mystery of his own musings. Then to “Trois études de concert” (1845-1849), suitably referred to by the composer's Paris publisher as “caprices poétiques”. From “Il lamento” (The Lament), in which Katz fires the imagination with the drama inherent in tonal processes, with dissonances melting into harmonic tranquillity, with imposing utterances juxtaposed with fragility, he moves into “La Leggierezza” (Lightness), floating its weightless intricacy, presenting its intensity, his deft, splendidly clean fingerwork taking one back to the gossamer textures of lightness. No less rewarding was Katz' playing of the Impressionistically-hued “Un sospiro” (A Sigh), its huge technical demands (serving as dramatic and theatrical effects in Liszt’s own performances) in no way hampering Katz’ silken melodic lines and shimmering, flowing arpeggios.

Then to the “Zwei Konzertetüden” (1862-1863) composed by Liszt in Rome, with Katz’ playing of “Waldesrauschen” (Forest Murmurs) richly poetic and abundant in nature associations, followed by the playful, imaginative portrayal of “Gnomenreigen” (Dance of the Gnomes), Katz directing the listener’s attention to the piece’s impish, hopping, good-natured whimsy rather than to the fact that this is one of Liszt’s most difficult piano pieces!

The second part of the program was devoted to Franz Liszt’s “Transcendental Études”, a work begun when the composer was in his teens with its final version published in 1852, when the composer was 41. One of the most challenging works of  Romantic piano repertoire, Schumann viewed the 1838 version of it as “studies in storm and dread for, at the most, ten or twelve players in the world.” In his program notes, Katz, offering the audience the rare opportunity of hearing the work in its entirety, writes that, in his opinion, “transcendental” refers to the work’s “philosophical aspect rather than to the technical side.” Opening with the fleeting but uncompromisingly energetic “Preludio”, Katz invites his listeners to join him on a journey of vivid pianistic performance and intense emotions. A kaleidoscope of piano techniques, of the timbres created by textures and registers, of programmatic content (“Mazeppa”, for example) or visual associations, Katz’ warmth of tone and spontaneity, served by his unfaltering technique, gave the pieces an air of freshness, of endless discovery. And beauty of melody is high up on his list of priorities. Creating contrasts between pieces of high drama and massive textures, Katz’ signature tenderness and sensibility was woven into the flowing tranquillity of such pieces as “Paysage” (Landscape), the subdued swirling and strangely dissonant “Feux Follets” (Will-o-the Wisps), or the personal expression of nostalgia and delicacy in the ornamented, old-world sentiments of “Ricordanza” (Remembrance).

The Liszt recital is indeed a major milestone in Amir Katz’ career.  The “12 Études d’éxécution transcendante” constitute a large, probing and all-encompassing slice of life. In presenting them, Katz offers his audience a ravishing array of colours and dynamics in playing that is compelling and frequently stormy but never overblown or opaque. And his interpretation of Liszt is refreshingly devoid of egoism. In Amir Katz’ own words: “Performing the Études as a cycle is a captivating and rigorous autobiographical journey for both listener and performer.”