Monday, February 5, 2018

Violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Ron Regev perform sonatas of Mieczyslaw Weinberg at the Jerusalem Music Centre

Grigory Kalinovsky,Ron Regev (photo: Leonid Kriksunov)
In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27th), a concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre presented works for violin and piano by Mieczyslaw Weinberg on January 27th 2018. Three of Weinberg’s works were performed by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky (Russia/USA) and pianist Ron Regev (Israel). Introducing the event, musicologist Ms. Janna Menhel spoke in depth about the composer’s life, his work and times.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg was born in Warsaw in 1919 where his father worked as a composer and violinist in a travelling Jewish theater. The young Weinberg became a renowned pianist. From 1931 to 1941, he studied composition with Vasily Zolotaryov. In 1941, his entire family was burned alive by the Nazis. As a refugee, Vainberg fled first to Minsk and then, in advance of the invading Nazi armies, to Tashkent, where he engaged in theatrical- and operatic projects. There he met Solomon Michoils, whose daughter he married. Michoels, the most famous Jewish actor in the Soviet Union, was murdered on direct orders from Stalin, It was in Tashkent that Weinberg wrote his First Symphony, sending it to Shostakovich, the work making a favourable impression on the latter. The two became friends and colleagues, resulting in Weinberg’s settling in Moscow, where he remained for the rest of his life. Weinberg was arrested for Jewish bourgeois nationalism on the absurd charge of plotting to set up a Jewish republic in the Crimea and released only after Stalin’s death in 1953. He gradually built up a reputation as a composer and supported by many leading Soviet singers, instrumentalists and conductors.

Weinberg’s oeuvre covers many genres, from film and circus music to tragic grand opera, from simple melodies with easy accompaniments to complex twelve-tone music. Characterized by virtuosity and elegance, it displays elements of Jewish, Polish, Russian and Moldavian folk music; his personal style boasts almost classical architecture, dynamic, beauty and warmth and a forward-driving motion. His melodic language – at times introverted and meditative-reflective, at other times full of effervescent joy of living – is is one of contrasts, expressing both the lighter and darker sides of life. Janna Menhel mentioned that many of Weinberg’s works deal with war and suffering. Of his 26 symphonies, the last to be completed, Kaddish, is dedicated to the memory of the Jews who perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. Weinberg donated the manuscript to the Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. Weinberg spent his last days in bad health and afflicted by a deep depression occasioned by the wholesale neglect of his music – an unworthy end to a career the importance of which has yet to be recognised. Weinberg died in February 1996.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg composed eight works for violin and piano, three of which were performed at the Jerusalem concert. Perhaps not as central to his oeuvre as the symphonies or string quartets, the violin sonatas nevertheless trace the development of his own personal style. Performing one of the earlier ones, Sonata No.2 for violin and piano Op.15, Kalinovsky and Regev engaged in the work’s agenda, both musical and emotional, evoking the 25-year-old composer’s broad soundscape of grim and ironic elements with large forte utterances, temporarily relieved by calmer moments of contemplation. .Dedicated to Soviet composer Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to Pyotr Tchaikovsky) the Sonatina for violin and piano Op.46 (1949) opened in a flowing Romantic manner, with interest created by the different agendas of both instruments in the first movement. The Lento movement, its somewhat disturbing modal themes suggesting folk themes, led into the intense, terse yet equally endearing Allegretto moderato. Different again in approach, Sonata No.5 Op.53, composed in 1953, opened with what might evoke a vast Russian soundscape, its more intense middle section inviting the return of the movement’s appealing, initial pensive mood. Kalinovsky and Regev’s playing of this sonata emphasized the composer’s brilliant writing for both instruments, its rich palette of contrasts including the excitement and demonic sections of the 2nd movement (Allegro molto), the hesitating, spontaneous gestures in the 4th movement and, above all, how Weinberg approached each instrument as a soloist.

Weinberg is slowly being recognized as a 20th century genius, a figure of great significance of post-modern classical music. Janna Menhel saw the Jerusalem event as a step towards raising awareness to Weinberg’s music in Israel and bringing his hundreds of works back to concert halls. The audience, mostly consisting of people from the former Soviet Union, appreciated the artists’ profound performance of the works. One of the greatest violinists of his generation, Grigory Kalinovsky recently recorded all Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s sonatas for violin and piano with Tatiana Goncharova for the Naxos label. International artist and chairman of the Jerusalem Academy of Music’s Keyboard Department, Dr. Ron Regev prtnered Kalinovsky splendidly in this important repertoire.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Ensemble Barrocade and guests in "El fuego del amor" - Baroque and Latin-American music

Soprano Daniela Skorka (photo: Nira Yogev)
“El fuego del amor” (The Fire of Love) Ensemble Barrocade’s recent concert, created a meeting point for Baroque- and folk music. Soloists were soprano Daniela Skorka, countertenor Yaniv D’Or, mandolin players Jacob Reuven and Mari Carmen Simon (Duo 16 Strings), harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon and two members of Ensamble Folklorico Latinoamericano - Claudio Cohen Tarica and Natan Furmansky.This writer attended the concert on January 27th 2018 at the Kiryat Yearim Church, Abu Gosh.

The program offered great variety. In his performance of Alessandro Grandi’s monodic “O quam tu pulchra es” (Song of Songs), Yaniv D’Or gave subtle expression with tasteful ornamentation to the changes within the text. His exuberant reading of Vincenzo Calestani’s lighthearted amorous “Damigella tutta bella”, with its stirring ritornellos, was given solid instrumental support...a nice recorder solo, too on the part of Adi Silberberg, whose soloing and improvisations featured throughout the concert.
‘Maiden, all-beautiful, pour, O pour out that sweet wine; make fall the dew distilled from rubies.
I have in my breast an evil poison deeply emplaced by Love; but I would cast it out and leave it immersed in these depths.
Maiden, all-beautiful, with that wine you do not satisfy me; make fall that dew distilled from topaz.
This new flame burning me more, may it burn my heart anew; If my life is not consumed, I will count it (my good fortune).’
Countertenor Yaniv D'Or (photo: Nira Yogev)
The vocal centrepiece of the first half of the program was another secular work - G.F.Handel’s chamber cantata “Tra le Fiamme”, probably composed in 1708. The dramatic story of Icarus flying with the wings of feathers and wax his father Daedalus had made him and approaching too near the sun for his own good, is an allegory of a man lured by love, deceived by a pretty face and flying “among the flames”. Daniela Skorka addressed and involved the audience as she sang with great naturalness and beauty of timbre, weaving the colorful text, blending with the players, hanging onto the occasional dissonance just that moment longer and showing the course of events as they spiralled into the final  frenetic aria with its busy passagework. The work offers an effective variety of instrumentation and a prominent part to the viola da gamba (Amit Tiefenbrunn). The scaled-down scoring  in recitatives created a sense of intimacy. Threaded in between the vocal works were some fine instrumental pieces - the well-travelled Florence-born lutenist/composer Carlo Arrigoni’s courtly Sonata for two mandolins and basso continuo (Mari Carmen Simon, Jacob Reuven) and Portuguese composer and keyboard virtuoso Carlos Seixas’ Harpsichord Concerto in A-major. Seixas's music, influenced by the German Empfindsamer Stil,  belongs to the transitional period between Baroque and Classical music and showcases a range of musical styles. Displaying Seixas’ idiomatic vocal-like melodies blending into quasi-contrapuntal lines and simple block harmonies, Yizhar Karshon’s playing was alive and skillfully ornamented, displaying a work well written for the harpsichord. And a work probably more familiar to the Baroque music crowd - Tarquinio Merula’s Ciaconna for two violins and basso continuo - with violinists Shlomit Sivan and Dafna Ravid playing out Merula’s entertaining and animated dialogue against a short ground.

The second half of the program took on a Latin-American flavour. For this, the Barrocade instrumentalists were joined by Claudio Cohen Tarika and Natan Furmanski, two members of Ensamble Folklorico Latinoamericano an Israeli-based ensemble specializing in traditional music, in particular from Argentina and the Andes region. Natan Furmanski is the group’s musical director. Italian composer/lutenist Andrea Falconieri was not from those regions, but his “Folias”, published in 1650, preceded many later versions of the later Folias in its radical changes, chromaticism, variety and use of the “wandering variation” (as pioneered by Monteverdi). The work honours a lady of the Spanish nobility. The present performance gave the stage to several of the players soloing or dueting, as the varied scoring and combinations offered much joy in an abundance of timbres. The program went on to offer several examples of the unabashedly sentimental and nostalgic Latin song repertoire, beginning with Yaniv D’Or’s spirited and spontaneous singing of “Marizápalos” an amusing and coarse anecdote about the actress María 'Marizapalos' Calderón, the Spanish Nell Gwyn and King Philip IV's mistress, the tale punctuated by sighs sung by the players. Clearly familiar with this genre (her parents come from Uruguay) Daniela Skorka’s performance of a selection of Latin-American songs was appealing, touching and communicative, as she expressed their heart-on-sleeve sentiments with as much charm as polish. Adding authentic sounds to the atmosphere was the two versatile Ensamble Folklorico artists’ tasteful and delicate playing on a number of indigenous instruments - accordion, guitar and several percussion instruments. Ástor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” (1974) never fails to please, but Barrocade’s rendition was indeed a celebration of the blending of instrumental timbres, of spontaneity and solos. A special feature of this concert was the substantial and hearty soundscape created by the solid group of plucked instruments - mandolins, guitars, theorbo - and the opportunity to hear so many of the players solo and improvise. We were sent off home with a familiar melody played on the Andean pan flute, its otherworldly, mythical sounds transporting us to vast, faraway vistas.

Ensamble Folklirico Latinoamericano (Nira Yogev)