Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"The Symphonic Piano" - Ron Trachtman, Dror Semmel and Michael Zertsekel perform works on one, two and three pianos

M. Zertsekel,R.Trachtman,D. Semmel (Shmuel Semmel)
Referring to a recent concert of the Eden-Tamir Music Center (Ein Kerem, Jerusalem) as “The Symphonic Piano” was no play on words. The recital took place on July 8th 2017 in the magical setting of the Music Center. No new faces to the series, pianists Michael Zertsekel, Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman performed works on one, two and three pianos. Introducing the program, Eden-Tamir musical director Alexander Tamir spoke of piano music for four and more hands as being one of the most popular genres of the 19th century. From the days before the wax cylinder, and in lieu of attending concerts, arrangements of orchestral music were often played by competent home pianists of the rising middle classes. Composers and music publishers quickly capitalized on this situation. Brahms, a fairly astute businessman, made sure to arrange all his symphonies for four hands, publishing the arrangements before the orchestral premieres, resulting in the fact that some of his audience would have been well familiar with the works by the time they attended the public concert.

The program opened with Ron Trachtman and Dror Semmel performing the two-piano setting of Brahms’ Symphony No.3. Certainly challenging to the artists, hearing the work on pianos challenges the listener no less - here is the most “Brahmsian” symphony -  the least under the cloud of Beethoven and the most concentrated in texture - but without his palette of orchestral timbres. Yet the piano setting proved to be no “ poor relation” of the orchestral score. In playing that was crisp, transparent and articulate, Trachtman and Semmel invited the audience to listen perhaps more actively than it might at a symphony concert to the character of each gesture, to mood and intensity. Intimate moments and large, intense tutti were all present as the two pianists gave subtle shaping to each utterance. Their long, surging Romantic melodic lines (as in the 3rd movement) drew the listener in via the senses, with Brahms’ characteristic longing and searching emerging in the performance. And for the intellect, the artists presented the composer’s brilliant contrapuntal technique, a technique not far removed from that of Bach. It was a mammoth undertaking and certainly most satisfying.

Paul Pabst (1854-1897) was a child prodigy, first performing in public at age 11. He studied with Rubinstein and Liszt, and by 1878 the Prussian pianist was appointed to the staff at the Moscow Conservatory, where he taught many famous pianists, including Rachmaninoff. He was a renowned pianist himself and his transcriptions were highly regarded. Michael Zertsekel performed Pabst’s Concert Paraphrase on themes from Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin” op.81. (Pabst and Tchaikovsky actually knew each other. Tchaikovsky greatly admired Pabst, referring to him as  "a pianist of divine elegance" and "a pianist from God".) A concert piece sometimes referred to negatively by critics and often performed as a cheap show of muscular virtuosity, Zertsekel shows us that the end result of opus 81 indeed depends on whose hands the paraphrase comes under! In its assemblage of well-loved melodies, Zertsekel shapes the piece with delicacy, artistry and freshness, presenting its changing moods, its hearty- and its nostalgic moments. Yes, it may be a compendium of piano techniques there to be performed by the virtuoso player, but Zertsekel chooses to take the listener into its richly colored-musical canvas. Treating us to some delightful scintillating fingerwork, his well-delineated playing gave expression to the many-layered texture of the work, as in the superb counterpoint of Lensky’s aria played in the left hand, with fragments of the waltz  floating dreamily above it in the right hand.  

Michael Zertsekel and Ron Trachtman then performed J.S.Bach’s Concerto for two Harpsichords in C-major BWV 1061 on two pianos. A work frequently heard with orchestral accompaniment (the latter not written by Bach), a mostly light and transparent addition, the autograph, in Bach’s hand, presents only the roles of the two keyboards. Zertsekel and Trachtman address the work’s fine detail as they engage in its dialogue, highlighting Bach’s multi-layered textures. Some brisk ornamenting gave expression to the concerto’s Baroque mindset, the artists’ bold playing of the fugue (3rd movement) following their pleasing, intimate reading of the  slow (2nd) movement. Bach invented the harpsichord concerto mostly for concerts at the local coffee house, Zimmermann’s. Zimmermann’s had two rooms, the largest, about 26’ x 32’, the size of a very ample living room. This is where the harpsichord concertos of Bach were premiered. The size, resonance and ambience of the Eden-Tamir Music Center’s hall seemed well suited to the work’s genesis.

The concert concluded with Michael Zertsekel’s arrangement for three pianos of the opening  movement (Molto Allegro) of Mozart’s Symphony No.40 in G-minor, K.550. Composed in 1788,  with the composer plagued by a constant lack of money and when Viennese audiences were only interested in light music for entertainment, having little love for Mozart’s challenging music, it was, nevertheless, an extremely productive period for the composer. In light of these circumstances, the Molto Allegro makes much of plaintive sighs, though gentle graceful melodies also appear and even occasional bursts of jubilation.  Charles Rosen (“The Classical Style”) has called the symphony "a work of passion, violence, and grief."  Zertsekel takes into account Mozart’s scoring - flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings but no trumpets and no timpani, hence the splendidly opulent and velvety tutti, with Mozart’s melodies and gestures shining through the texture together with his charm and Sturm und Drang references.

Here was another of Michael Zertsekel, Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman’s programs offering interest and performance unique and uncompromising in quality.   


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