Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet hosts pianist Yaron Kohlberg in an opera-inspired program

Itamar Leshem,Roy Amotz,Danny Erdman,Yigal Kaminka,Nadav Cohen (photo:Dafna Gazit)
The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet is presently performing a series of concerts in various locations in Israel. This writer attended the concert on April 29th 2017 at the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv. For this series, TAWQ members Roy Amotz (flute), Yigal Kaminka (oboe), Danny Erdman (clarinet), Itamar Leshem (horn) and Nadav Cohen (bassoon) were joined by guest pianist Yaron Kohlberg. Established in 2007, the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet’s aims are to perform existing repertoire and commission new works, with an emphasis of performing and recording works of Israeli composers. The TAWQ’s debut album (2016) includes works of Bach and Beethoven and Piazzolla, also the world premiere of a work by Israeli composer Ari Ben-Shabetai.

The Tel Aviv program opened with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat major for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon K.452, written in 1784, the composer’s only piano quintet, and premiered the same year with Mozart himself at the piano. Its scoring rendering it a ground-breaking work when it was written, the K.452 quintet is still a work to keep audiences at the edge of their seats. With its abundance of solo statements, conversational duo banter, trio-, quartet- and quintet textures, the players incorporated Mozart’s sense of well-being, joy and thoughtful moments, their buoyant, vibrant mix of individual timbres coming together in suave shaping, incisive playing, articulate Classical balance and single-mindedness. Nadav
Cohen's burnished-, cantabile- and naturally shaped lines were evident, with Yaron Kohlberg’s crisp, clean passagework, never marred by excessive use of the sustaining pedal and never thick, giving freshness to the performance.

Those of us familiar with music of Luciano Berio (1925-2003) are acquainted with his Sinfonia, his solo Sequenza series and the wonderfully evocative “Folk Songs” (1964); we associate him with Darmstadt and serial music. The TAWQ chose to familiarize its audience with one of the Italian composer’s early works – Opus Number Zoo – a play for children, written before Berio’s move to the USA and dedicated to Aaron Copland on his 70th birthday. Composed in 1951 and revised in 1970, the work comprises four movements, each corresponding to a text recited by the musicians, solo or together, and woven in and out of the musical text. The four poems, written by Rhoda Levine, have been translated into Hebrew rhyme by Elisha Shefi, to which members of the TLWQ have made a few changes. Ari Teperberg did the stage direction. The work, their succinct movements titled “Barn Dance”, “The Fawn”, “The Grey Mouse” and “Tom Cats”, are neo-Classical in style; they are tightly constructed, with musical- and verbal phrases tossed (often mid-way) from one artist to another. Making full use of stage, the TAWQ players delivered both music and repartee in a masterly, brisk and polished manner...and with gusto! The poems, although folksy in tone, are, however, overlayered with adult cynicism and seriousness, with anti-war messages (“The Fawn”, “Tomcats”), references to the inevitability of old age (“The Grey Mouse”), etc. “Barn Dance” is a bouncy and catchy number, but the other three poems carry an ominous undercurrent. Yet, with the five artists investing energy, humor and precision in the performance, the stage of the Israel Music Conservatory’s auditorium took on an air of drollery and of the unexpected. The audience was well amused.

Gioachino Rossini’s wind quartets are actually arrangements of the string quartets he composed in 1804, when he was all of twelve years of age. They were arranged for wind quartet (flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon) by renowned clarinetist and teacher Frédéric Berr, a contemporary of Rossini.  Berr’s voicing of the wind instruments is not only idiomatic and convincing, it ties in with Rossini’s own style of writing for these instruments. There is no doubt that Amotz, Erdman, Leshem and Cohen’s playing of the work added the extra attraction of timbral variety to the fruits of Rossini’s precocious imagination. The artists indeed captured the Rossini soundscape, as the work showcased each of these fine players in its gamut of melodies, jocularity, elegance and vivacity. Solos were accompanied with elegance. Especially notable were Roy Amotz’ finely chiseled melodic phrases and radiant passagework, his transitions and ornamenting, and Itamar Leshem’s handling of the challenging horn role in a work that foresees Rossini’s future as a great opera composer.

The Suite from Kurt Weill’s “Threepenny Opera” takes the listener into a very different world, both musically and socially, with the Brecht/Weill collaboration presenting a modern rethinking of the 1728 stage piece of John Gay and Johann Christian Pepusch on London’s low life in a musical theatre piece celebrating crooks and gangsters. With the strident, jagged opening chords of the Overture setting the scene, the TAWQ players launch into the bittersweet music, their sophisticated interpretational skills giving expression to the raw, rhythmically nervous, jazz-tinged cabaret style of Berlin of the 1920s. Sardonic, tragic, at times tender (some nostalgic moments beautifully conveyed by Kaminka) the quintet’s substantial, richly spiced joint sound gave fine representation to the work’s revolutionary satire, musical profanity and social criticism. The arrangement for wind quintet was by distinguished New York clarinetist Alan R. Kay.

The program concluded with Berlin-based composer/flautist Aaron Dan’s 2011 piano and wind quintet arrangement of Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” op.28 (1895). Written in a loose rondo form, the work is scored for large orchestra, calling for a great number of wind instruments and percussion.  The tone poem was inspired by the ancient German legend of Till Eulenspiegel, a mischievous trickster who became known in folkloric stories as a sort of con artist meets jester. His legend plays largely upon the common man’s belief that avarice can be found behind every pillar in the halls of the entitled and that it is the gift of the good-hearted, witty fool to expose them. A true program work, the high-paced romp begins with the piano (violins in the original) in a “One upon a time” gesture, with the horn then playing the triumphant/somewhat mocking Till Eulenspiegel theme, a motif which becomes threaded throughout the work, with Danny Erdman playing the clarinet theme representing Till's laughter. A challenging work to play, the TAWQ and Kohlberg’s performance of it was strategically timed, finely coordinated, colourful, dynamic and decidedly whimsical.  Following his life of tricks and social destruction, Till is brought before a judge and condemned to the gallows, his last mocking phrase cut short suddenly and dramatically. But, before the storybook is closed, the six players’ last musical gestures remind us that Till Eulenspiegel was a lovable fellow and that his story lives on.

With no possibility here to go into the biographies of the five wind players, it must be said that each member of the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet is a unique artist and soloist on the international scene. Their joint signature sound bristles with supple energy.  Yaron Kohlberg, today residing in China, appears solo and in collaboration with other artists, holds master classes and serves as jury member in international competitions. Six outstanding, home-grown musicians, fine programming and deep enquiry into each work made for an evening of high quality performance and pure enjoyment.

Yaron Kohlberg (Rinat Aldema)

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