Saturday, April 28, 2018

Three Pianos and Four Strings at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem

Photo: Shirley Burdick
Taking place in Ein Kerem on April 21st 2018 , “Three Pianos and Four Strings” was the third of four concerts of this ensemble in the 2017-2018 Eden-Tamir Music Center concert series. Artists performing were violinists Nitzan Ben Canetty and Dima Pocitari, Gili Radian-Sade-viola and Gal Nyska-’cello. The three pianists were Dror Semmel, Ron Trachtman and a new face to the trio, Keren Hanan.

The program opened with J.S.Bach’s  concerto for Two Pianos (Harpsichords) in C-minor BWV 1060 (c.1730). A  transcription of a lost concerto for two solo instruments and string orchestra, it is thought by scholars to have been originally written for violin and oboe soloists. Only the harpsichord version survives but, supporting the above surmise is the fact that the two solo instruments do not use identical melodic ranges: one compass fitting that of the oboe exactly, with the differing melodic characteristics of the two solo parts again suggesting an uneven pair of solo instruments. At the Ein Kerem concert, Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman played the keyboard roles, with the string quartet, light, transparent but substantial, taking on the orchestral capacity most satisfactorily. Semmel and Trachtman’s crisp, clean touch and  punctilious dialogue gave expression to this style, a style at the same time reserved yet abounding in vigorous rhythmic energy. Supported by delicate pizzicato playing of the strings in the Largo ovvero Adagio (2nd movement), the pianists engaged in lyrical thematic interchange, then to intertwine utterances in what might resemble an operatic duet. In the final movement (Allegro), the artists’ contrasting layering of dynamics was bracing and vital and graced with some attractive ornamentation. .

Then, to L.van Beethoven’s String Quartet in F-major Op.18/1, performed by the string quartet with Classical beauty and geniality, its Haydnesque sense of well-being punctuated by Beethoven’s characteristic intensiveness and outbursts. The second movement (Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato) was handled with poignancy, its opening melody, mournful and personal,  played by the first violin (Nitzan Ben Canetty), to be answered by the second violin (Dima Pokitari) and viola (Gili Radian-Sade), with a moving ‘cello solo (Gal Nyska). as the tragic movement built up to an intense climax, then to fade away. Any seriousness was swept away by the following good-natured Scherzo, with its playful first violin solos, to end with the wink of an eye. The quartet’s reading of the final Allegro abounded in charm, appeal and wit and a feel of ebullient spaciousness.

As in the case of the earlier Bach work on the program, Bach’s Piano (Harpsichord) Concerto in E-major BWV 1053 is also a reworking of a lost concerto, possibly for oboe or oboe d’amore. A work revered  for its complex and tricky solo role, Dror Semmel addressed it with lightness of touch and much delightful fingerwork, as, in the opening movement, he and the quartet at times engaged in separate agendas, at others, collaborating in joint optimistic expression. In this work, Dima Pocitari took on the role of 1st violin. In the Siciliano (2nd movement) taken at a comfortable pace, the artists presented its daring harmonic turns, as the piano wove its lines through and around chords played by the strings, then to reverse  roles. For my taste, it was a touch too restrained for a movement as poetic. Semmel’s energetic playing saw him through the rich and elaborate final movement (Allegro), its unrelenting and elaborate movement endorsed with textural lucidity and with some splendid flamboyant spreads.

In one of the ensemble’s previous Ein Kerem concerts, we heard the two-piano version of W.A.Mozart’s Concerto in F-major K.242. At the present concert, Semmel and Trachtman were joined by Keren Chanan to perform the original three-piano version. If one considers the list of people  for whom the composer wrote piano concertos, it is clear that both Salzburg and Vienna could boast any number of first-rate women pianists, this list, of course, including Mozart’s sister Nannerl. It was, however, Count Ernst Lodron, one of the most musically sophisticated members of Salzburg’s nobility, who commissioned the 20-year-old Mozart to write the K.242 Concerto, a work also referred to as the “Lodron” Concerto. It was to be played by the Count’s wife and two daughters, who happened to be Mozart’s students. Each part, in which case, was tailored to the ability of the performer who would play it, with the degree of difficulty adjusted for differences in skill and experience: two of the solo parts are moderately difficult, while the third, that intended for the younger of the two daughters, is more modest in its demands. Despite the unavoidably awkward positioning of the three pianos on the small stage of the Eden-Tamir Music Center, the artists managed to maintain eye contact, as they engaged in well-coordinated gestures, offering the concerto energetic, stylish flare in the outer movements in a performance bristling with charm, joy and delicacy and indulging in its copious Rococo figuration.  With Pocitari leading in, the second movement (Adagio), defined by its lyrical, melodic passages, emerged poignant and highly expressive, one might even say, "feminine" in style. In the final movement (Rondeau, Tempo di Minuetto) each soloist was heard in individual utterances, as the string quartet built the movement up to a dramatic finale.  Found on the manuscript, the dedication, written in Mozart’s own hand, reads: “For Her Excellency, Her Ladyship, the Countess Lodron...and her daughters, their Ladyships the Countesses Aloysia and Giuseppa." Performing it at Ein Kerem, with the string quartet functioning effectively in the one-instrument-to-a-part concept, certainly created the idea of a house performance at the Lodron residence, with the three noble lady students shining in the presence of their guests.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Throwing convention to the winds, Ensemble PHOENIX performs works of the Stylus Fantasticus genre

Myrna Herzog,Lilia Slavny,Marina Minkin (photo:Eliahu Feldman)

Ensemble PHOENIX, founded and directed by Myrna Herzog, has recently presented a program dedicated to the Stylus Fantasticus genre. Performing the works were Marina Minkin-harpsichord, Myrna Herzog-viola da gamba and guest violinist Lilia Slavny, who today resides in Holland. This writer attended the concert on April 16th 2018 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


The Stylus Fantasticus represents a free and unrestrained form of composing, the effect at times being almost like written out improvisation, in which the music moves from key to key in a free and unconventional manner. Fast transitions and sudden changes in affect are very characteristic of this particular Baroque style. In her program notes, Dr. Myrna Herzog quotes German scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), who in 1650 described music of the Stylus Fantasticus as “the most free and unrestrained method of composing...bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject...instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony and the ingenious composition of harmonic phrases and fugues.”


The PHOENIX program opened with the Israeli premiere of (half of) Marin Marais’ “La Gamme en forme de petit Opéra”. The artists premiered the complete work some days prior to this in Haifa. "La Gamme" is a lengthy and unique work of movements that ascend the steps of the octave, producing a large canvas of character pieces that move swiftly from one to the next, as its frequently short transitions unpredictably sweep the listener into new tempi, textures and tonalities. Marin Marais was himself a great virtuoso on the viol, so it is little wonder that he demands the viol player take on a double role here, systematically dividing his (in this case, her) time between joining the harpsichord as a bass instrument and duetting with the violin (on occasions, playing above it!) Lilia Slavny lavished much expression on the work’s moods, songs and dances, whether they be fiery or touching or even folk-like in character.  Marin Marais’ harpsichord role bristles with interest and challenges.  Demanding virtuosity and much focus on the part of all three players, the work had the audience perched at the edge of their seats. It must have been as surprising and unconventional to audiences of Marin Marais’ time as it is to our ears today!  As to it being in the form of an “opera”, each audience member is invited to create his own libretto and plot.


Then to Georg Muffat, whose cosmopolitan career took him from his birthplace in Savoy to all of the Continent’s most brilliant capitals, including Paris, where he learned the Lullian orchestral style and Rome, where he became a member of Arcangelo Corelli’s circle. The Sonata a Violino Solo, Muffat’s earliest surviving work, was composed in Prague in 1677 following the composer’s year-long sojourn in Vienna. In Vienna, he was surely influenced by his encounter with Heinrich Biber, also an original personality and a violin virtuoso, whose compositions boasted colourful programmatic content. Biber’s 1677 Sonata is unlike any other piece of its period...and probably unlike any other sonata! Following Slavny’s serene and cantabile ornamented playing of the opening movement, with its split melodic exchange, she forged into the work’s daring forays that take on extravagant harmonic excursions and runs of virtuosic frenzy. Slavny presented its virtuosic runs with brilliant passagework in playing that was richly sonorous and articulate, her rhythmic flexibility giving the performance a sense of spontaneity. As to the other instrumental roles, her fellow musicians gave the continuo plenty to say.


We then heard Marina Minkin performing J.S.Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D-minor BWV 903, composed probably in the 1720s in Weimar,  one of the most challenging and virtuosic works written for the harpsichord; Bach’s extensive use of arpeggiated writing points to the fact that this piece was indeed intended for the harpsichord, as does its title “Fantasie chromatique pour le Clavecin”. Minkin’s playing of the Fantasie was a pertinent reminder that Bach was known as a great improviser, as she negotiated the large, expansive and wildly emotional piece, its bold harmonic structure and startling modulations with dexterity, intelligence and a sense of suspense… Minkin kept us aware of the fact that each following phrase would be a new, unpredictable adventure for the listener (Bach’s own careful, sleight-of-hand stratagem was present all the time) as we chose to revel in the wild, chromatically whirling abundance of runs, passages and arpeggios. Under her fingers, the recitative section emerged as subtle and thoughtful. From the outset of the fugue, there was a sense of order being restored, but we were soon to discover that the Stylus Fantasticus had waved its magic wand once again, producing a fugue with an element of freedom and uncertainty as it spiralled to its conclusion of bravura passagework, scales and octave-doubling in the bass. Marina Minkin was playing a Frank Hubbard harpsichord (1979).


The Hebrew University noon concert ended with a work by Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli (c.1630-c.1669), an Italian-born composer who first worked as a composer in the court of Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Austria in Innsbruck before moving to Messina, where he was employed as a virtuoso violinist. There, he murdered castrato Giovanni Marquett, not before dedicating some of his songs to him. (This incident meant his having to flee Sicily, first to France and then to Spain.) Messina was, however, distinguished for its avant-garde cultural activity. Pandolfi Mealli’s Sonata Op.3/2 “La Cesta” would have certainly fit into this cultural setting. Slavny’s easeful technique and insightful reading of the text takes the listener through the work’s unconventional roller coaster ride of strong emotions and sudden outbursts, with the work, at times, pursuing unorthodox harmonic courses.


For an encore, the trio played one more section of Marin Marais’ “La Gamme”, its tender, appealing disposition suggesting that this must represent a love scene of the imaginary opera. Dr. Myrna Herzog’s latest program is proof that there were just a few Baroque composers who were ready to throw convention to the winds and let madcap individualism take over, hence the existence of this curious and intoxicating musical repertoire. Playing it is highly demanding on all levels and for all players. The audience was delighted to be a part of this exhilarating event!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Emperor of Atlantis", an opera composed in the Terezin concentration camp, performed in Tel Aviv on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

Courtesy the Isreael Chamber Orchestra
Commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel (April 12th 2018), a semi-staged English language version of “The Emperor of Atlantis” was performed at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, as one program of the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s “Redefining the Classics” concert series. Conductor Adrian Sylveen (USA) and singers (Israeli and others) are involved in the Vienna-Tel Aviv Vocal Connection, a non-profit organization that nurtures opera singers.  Proceeds from the Tel Aviv concert were donated to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.

Composed by Viktor Ullmann to Peter Kien’s libretto, the short opera (subtitled “The Disobedience of Death”) was written between 1943 and 1944 when the composer and writer were both prisoners at the Terezín concentration camp. A signature masterpiece of Terezin’s musical scene and a poignant glimpse into the lives of the suffering masses, it was first rehearsed by inmates of the camp, most of whom did not survive to the premiere. The score, daring in its satirization of the political situation of WWII, while delivering timeless messages on the power of life and death, is courageously provocative. Fortunately, it was smuggled out of the camp. Its performances worldwide serve as an extraordinary testament to conviction, wit and humanity in the face of barbarity. Ullmann’s musical score, calling for standard orchestral instruments as well as saxophone, guitar, harpsichord and piano, integrates post-Bergian lyricism with cabaret music in his musical style of the opera. It is a fine musical composition -  warm, confrontational, cynical,  jazzy and expressive, indeed, beguilingly powerful. The opera ends  with the chorale to the text "Come, Death, who art our worthy guest." accompanied by slowing drum beats.

The Emperor of Atlantis, ruler over much of the world, proclaims universal war and declares that his old ally Death will lead the campaign. Death, offended by the Emperor’s presumption, goes on strike, meaning that men will not die. Confusion results: a soldier and a girl-soldier from opposite sides sing a love duet instead of fighting; the sick and suffering find no release. Death, who is then persuaded to return when humanity finds the prospect of endless life unendurable, dictates one condition - that the Emperor be the first to die.

At the Tel Aviv performance, some singing took place behind the orchestra and some in front of it, giving different scenes a sense of distance or two locations. The singers were well chosen: tenor Daniel Kamalic (USA), playing  both Harlequin (representing life) and the soldier, has much stage presence, engaging face and body in lively cabaret-type acting as the former and joining Lithuanian soprano Jurate Svedaite, “the girl with the short hair”, in a tender and poignant love duet. Conveying the opera’s bitter satire on militarism, Israeli mezzo-soprano Ayelet Amotz-Avramson gave a spirited characterization of the warmongering drummer, her vocal timbre rich and flexible, as she contended well with the orchestra. As the Loudspeaker, Finnish bass Erik Rousi was articulate and engaging, with bass-baritone Steven Fredericks (USA) evoking Death in an imposing and spine-chilling manner. In the role of the Emperor, Samuel Berlad (Germany) had the audience spellbound as he sang his farewell aria with conviction, his voice mellifluous, pleasing and convincing. Sylveen and the Israel Chamber Orchestra contributed much to the performance in their richly-coloured presentation of the instrumental score.

During the opera’s final rehearsal in September of 1944, SS officers present were outraged at what they heard. Any further work of the opera’s performance was swiftly halted as “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” was immediately banned. In fact, the entire cast, orchestra, Ullmann, Kien, and their families were promptly shipped in a transport to Auschwitz. Only the composition and some of the singers survived. Following the Tel Aviv performance of April 2018, all present stood for two minutes’ silence in memory of artists who perished in the Holocaust.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Pianist Amir Katz in an all-Liszt recital in Tel Aviv

Amir Katz (photo: Robert Recker)
Of late, Israeli pianist Amir Katz has been immersed in the musical world and piano works of Franz Liszt. On April 14th 2018, he gave an all-Liszt recital as part of the Piano Recital Series of the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv.


Katz chose to gently lure his listeners into the rich and complex world of Liszt's piano music via Consolation No.3 in D-flat major S.172, taking time to spell out each melodic gesture and each turn of harmony of rare beauty and Chopinesque delicacy in silky, glittering subtlety, adding just a hint of nostalgia. He then embarked on the S.144 and 145 Concert Études. The three S144 concert etudes are virtuosic essays from Liszt's early creative period. “Un sospiro”, with its drama and reminiscences, displays Katz ‘ skillful handling of the lush arpeggios that never overshadow the melody, however light, followed by both the full tutti alongside the eloquence and freshness of his gossamer touch in “La leggierezza”. Then, following a grand introduction, to the pianist’s intensely personal reading of “Il lamento”, as he invites the score, with its alien harmonies and interesting passagework, to take him and the listener into its range of emotions.The Zwei  Konzertetüden S.145 opened with the sparkling “Waldesrauschen” (Forest Murmurs), its sixteenth-note movement descriptive of forest stirrings, calm, floating and graceful, at times, swirling and agitated at others with its streams of cascading figures. Katz’ hopping and crisp rendition of “Gnomenreigen” (Dance of the Gnomes) presented the humorous, feisty, good-natured and somewhat devilish character of this piece. Published in 1862, Mephisto Waltz No.1, S.514, a demonic, whirling dance, displaying Franz Liszt's dazzling mastery of energy, takes its inspiration from Lenau’s version of the Faust story; its music effectively portrays the evil temptations generated by Mephisto. It also refers to Liszt’s own virtuosic career and to sociocultural concerns of the time, including the widespread fascination with the virtuoso musician as a demonic agent! I think, in Amir Katz’ case, we can rule out the latter. Between the frenetic, fully “orchestrated” outer sections of Mephisto Waltz No.1, Katz gave tender expression and nostalgic whimsy to gestures of the middle section.


Following the intermission, Amir Katz performed the Piano Sonata in B-minor S.178 (1853), a work dedicated to Robert Schumann that represents the pinnacle of Liszt’s compositional achievements.  Katz’ articulate reading of the mammoth opus and his perspective of its cyclical structure guided the listener through the transformations of its themes, its sweeping energy and play of textures and tempi, his virtuosic skill and stamina (devoid of all dense, over-muscular display) serving him splendidly in the piece’s full-on, (indeed, mephistophelian) moments. Making for ravishing contrasts were some moments of exquisite refinement and fragility. Katz’ strategic timing made the work all the more palpable.


Of Franz Liszt’s very many (mostly) solo piano settings of works of other composers, we heard the pianist in superb arrangements of two Schubert Lieder. Katz’ playing of Schubert’s “Ständchen” (Serenade) - the much-loved love-song coloured with just a hint of grey cloud - was all flowing charm, beauty and songfulness and as lush as the song’s nature description. Katz’ rendition of the "Erlkönig" (Erlking) made for an astounding end to the evening, as he engaged his consummate technique to recreating the ballad’s drama, mystery and urgency, appropriating separate timbres to each of the three characters, playing them out against the dark, wild night and relentless sound of the galloping horse’s hooves, in a performance of rare involvement, sensitivity and depth.

Born in Ramat Gan (Israel), Amir Katz today resides in Berlin.




Sunday, April 8, 2018

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic in the Bronfman Auditorium, Tel Aviv in May

Maestro Yuri Temirkanov (photo: Stas Levshin)
The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing two concerts of Russian music in Tel Aviv this coming May. The concerts, under the baton of Yuri Temirkanov, will take place at the Charles Bronfman Cultural Center, 1 Huberman St. (home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) on May 9th and 10th  2018. It was Maestro Temirkanov’s wish to accompany the orchestra to Israel to perform in honour of 70 years of the State of Israel. The concerts also coincide with Victory Day (May 9th), a holiday that commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War following the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender late in the evening on 8 May 1945.

Chosen for the program for obvious reasons, the concert of May 9th will feature Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No.9, a work originally intended to be a celebration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany. The concert will be preceded by Israeli pianist/conductor/composer Gil Shohat’s talk about  the work and the tragic events surrounding it.

The concert of May 10th will feature soloist Nikolai Lugansky, a pianist of extraordinary depth and versatility. He will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra, one of the most technically challenging piano concertos of the standard classical repertoire. The program will also include Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov’s dazzling symphonic suite Scheherazade Op. 35.

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the oldest Philharmonia in Russia, has been in existence for more than two hundred years. Its history goes back to 1802, when the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Society, the first in Europe, was created. It organized the world premiere of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in 1824. Since 1988, Yuri Temirkanov, professor of violin at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow and one of the world's leading conductors, has served as the orchestra’s artistic director and chief conductor.

Tickets, ranging from NIS 186 to NIS 626 can be reserved by contacting *3221 or *8780


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Events to look forward to at the upcoming Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival (May 18th to 20th)

The Kityat Ye'arim Church (photo: Danny Hermon)

The Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival takes place twice a year in and around Abu Gosh, a town located 16 kilometers west of Jerusalem on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The next Abu Gosh Festival will take place from May 18th to May 20th 2018, with a program of 12 concerts suited to varied musical tastes. Concerts will be performed in two churches – the spacious Kiryat Ye’arim Church, sitting high up on the hill, and the Crypt – a small, 12th century Crusader Benedictine church set in a magical, exotic garden in the lower part of the town of Abu Gosh.  The Abu Gosh Festival has existed in its present form since 1992. People come from far and wide to attend concerts, picnic in the open, sit in on open-air events, buy trinkets at the outdoor stalls set up near the Kiryat Ye’arim Church and relax in the tranquil surroundings of the Jerusalem Hills. The festival features many Israeli groups and soloists, also hosting some overseas artists. As of 1995, Hannah Tzur has been musical director of the festival. Ms. Tzur, a contralto who has soloed with major orchestras and conductors in Israel, has directed the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir for 19 years.


The Kiryat Ye’arim Church will host a number of concerts of classical vocal works: “The Giants’ Summit” (Concert No.2, May 18th) will present music of Beethoven and Brahms, with four solo singers joining the Israeli Vocal Ensemble (Conductor: Yuval Benozer) and the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra. Yuval Benozer will also conduct Fauré’s Requiem (Concert No.5, May 19th) with soloists Dana Marbach, Yair Polishook, the Israel Kibbutz Choir and the Raanana Symphonette. Sopranos Alla Vasilevitsky and Keren Hadar will join an ensemble of players from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a program of Mozart’s Mass in C-minor, the Great, and Bach’s Double Concerto for oboe and violin (Concert No.8, May 20th); they will perform under the baton of Hannah Tzur herself. Baroque music aficionados will be catered for in two events: Ensemble Barrocade, the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir (conductor: Michael Shani) and soloists will perform works of Händel, Bach and Marcello (Concert No.4, May 19th). Barrocade, conducted by Yizhar Karshon, and soloists will perform “The Judgement of Paris” (Concert No.3, May 19th), an opera by Daniel Purcell (Henry Purcell’s brother.) Guest choir to the May festival will be the Jauna Muzika Choir (Conductor: Vaclovas Augustinas) from Lithuania, performing a program of works of Bach, Mendelssohn, A.Scarlatti and Lithuanian folk songs (Concert No.7, May 20th). There can be no Abu Gosh Festival without a concert performed by singers of the Meitar Opera Studio under their conductor, pianist and arranger David Sebba; “Italian Love Affair” (Concert No.6, May 20th) will present these young, budding opera singers in arias, duets and ensembles from renowned operas of Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini, Verdi and Rossini.  The Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir (conductor: Stanley Sperber) will commemorate 100 years of the birth of Leonard Bernstein in “Angels Singing” (Concert No.1, May 18th) with works of Bernstein and Mendelssohn as well as some spirituals.


Take a wander down to the Romanesque Crusader Church. Below it, the crypt, which was built in a former reservoir of the second century, is massive and austere; in some places its walls are more than 3½ meters thick. At its centre flows a spring. In the church’s exotic, tranquil garden, a local man will be there to serve you coffee with cardamom and rich, sweet pastries. Some of the more intimate and different-style concerts take place here. For festival-goers interested in folk music, soprano Einat Aronstein and lutenist Ophira Zakai will perform Scottish songs (“Scotland’s Green Pastures”, Concert No.9, May 18th). “The Castle's Tower – Spanish, Ladino and Renaissance Music” (Concert No.12, May 19th) will present singer Etty Ben-Zaken and instrumentalists in Eitan Steinberg’s arrangements of this appealing music. In an interesting combination of works, “Bach Bossa Nova Style” (Concert No.10, May 18th) will feature soprano Sharon Dvorin, Uri Bracha - guitar/arrangements and Gonen Rosenberg - percussion. Those of us with a penchant for Italian movies can join tenor Assaf Kacholi and guitarist Shani Inbar for some nostalgia in “La Dolce Vita, Cinema Paradiso – Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone”.




Friday, April 6, 2018

Giovanni A. Matielli - Three Sonatas recorded on square piano by Patrick Hawkins

Patrick Hawkins, the Ganer square piano (Ron Hagell)

Patrick Hawkins’ premiere recording of three (and a bit) of Giovanni A. Matielli’s Opus 1 Sonatas on the square piano is definitely an enterprising project, considering the fact that Matielli (1733-1805) is virtually unknown to today’s audiences. Born in Vienna, he studied with Austrian court composer Georg Christoph Wagenseil, who was instrumental in seeing in the early Classical period. Known in Vienna as a teacher rather than a performer, it stands to reason that Matielli’s works would have been played by amateurs and diligent students. Not a great deal is known about the composer’s life; his reputation remains in the shadow of contemporaries of the likes of Haydn and Mozart. However, but it is known that Christoph W. Gluck “was fond of Matielli’s compositions and delighted in his keyboard sonatas”, as we read in the disc’s liner notes. Dr. Hawkins has recorded each of the complete sonatas on a different square piano, all of which were built in London at the end of the 18th century. Two belong to the Carolina Clavier Collection; the third - built by Christopher Ganer between 1785 and 1790 - is owned by Hawkins himself.


Patrick Hawkins invites the listener to a concert of salon music; we hear these sonatas as they must have sounded at the time. He opens with Sonata in A-major Opus 1/1 played on a Johannes Broadwood square piano of 1787. This is an exuberant work of some naïveté. Hawkins applies the instrument’s somewhat fluty timbre to highlighting the sonata’s brightness, its searching middle movement, then adding some fine ornamentation to the final Allegretto movement. Sonata in G-major Opus 1/3 is performed on a Longman, Clementi and Co. square of 1799, a piano whose more developed technology and depth of sound serves this more sophisticated and varied work well, with its many contrasts and expressive moments. Take, for example, the third movement - Affettuoso - a mood piece, played very personally, its repeated section embellished with some pleasing spreads. We hear some contrasted and spirited playing in the work’s fourth and final movement - Allegro - as Classical textures present themselves in quick, lively succession. Christopher Ganer’s 5-octave pianos, with their square, tapering legs, simple veneers of mahogany and satinwood and bronze medallions were typical of fashionable furniture of the 1780s. The Ganer instrument (1785-90), on which Patrick Hawkins plays Sonata in A-major Opus 1/5 has its own distinctive, more abrupt character. The sonata, opens with exuberant energy and a hint of flexing. Hawkins chooses a more detached texture for the second movement (Adagio), taking time and enlisting plenty of rubato to give it natural and thoughtful spontaneity, with the final movement exuberant, free and entertaining. Played appealingly, “La Caccia” from Sonata in E-flat Major Opus 1/6, the final piece on the CD, represents much that is so vivid and delightful about the Classical style, and how effective and engaging it sounds on the square piano. Introducing the listener to this unknown composer, “Giovanni Matielli, Three Sonatas” recorded in 2017 for the Golden Square label, will surely appeal to those interested in the style and possibilities of the square piano, its true sound and transparency. The liner notes offer much information, both on Matielli and on the instruments used for the recording.


Born in Virginia, Patrick Hawkins is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory (Johns Hopkins University) and of East Carolina University and Arizona State University. Since making his European debut at the Cambridge Summer Recitals (UK) in 1993, he has continued to perform and teach internationally. As a choral conductor, he has conducted numerous school, church, and community choirs in Arizona, California, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. A founding member of the Vista Ensemble, a historically-informed performing organization of musicians in Columbia, South Carolina, Patrick Hawkins has recorded for Arkay and Navona Records.




Sunday, April 1, 2018

More notes from the 2018 Bach in Jerusalem Festival

Ensemble PHOENIX The Art of Fugue (photo: Ami Shamir)

The 3rd Bach in Jerusalem Festival, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, took place from March 17th to 21st, the final day of the festival being the actual date of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 333rd birthday! Prof. David Shemer, founder and director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, is musical director of the Bach in Jerusalem Festival.


Opening the festival events, “Homage to Johann Sebastian Bach”, an organ recital performed by István Ella (Hungary), and in collaboration with the Israel Organ Association, took place at noon on March 17th at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City. With the church’s Karl Schuke organ proving to be especially suitable to performance of J.S.Bach’s music, István Ella’s  recital attracted a large audience, making for a festive first event as he opened with Bach’s dramatic, virtuosic and exhilarating Prelude and Fugue in A-minor BWV 543.The concert’s centrepiece was the Partita “Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig," (I Greet Thee, Merciful Jesus), in whose subject and variations Ella presented a fascinating kaleidoscope of organ timbres and techniques. The recital concluded with the Toccata and Fugue in F-major BWV 540, the work’s daring harmonic forays woven into its grand utterances and proportions.  István Ella’s playing combines articulacy, majesty and freshness with his exciting palette of diverse registrations.


A special event of the festival was devoted to J.S.Bach’s “Art of Fugue”. This took place on March 19th at the Jerusalem YMCA. Festival-goers filled the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA to learn about- and experience more in one of the most enigmatic works of Bach and the Baroque period in general, and to hear some of its movements. Playing it on period instruments we heard Ensemble PHOENIX (this time, including some new faces): Yaakov Rubinstein-violin, Shai Kribus-oboe, oboe d’amore, recorders, Netanel Pollak-viola, Tal Arbel-viola da gamba, with PHOENIX founder and director Dr. Myrna Herzog also on viola da gamba. Musicologist Dr. Alon Schab’s discussion of the different movements performed at the concert was succinct, enlightening and entertaining, no mean task considering the fact that the sequence of 20 fugues and canons, grouped according to the contrapuntal devices they employ actually lacks all indications as to how they might be played. Schab certainly had his audience focused and keen to follow the course of each fugue. His and Herzog’s aim was to work from the manuscript as much as possible, rather than from printed editions. Having two bass viols meant that all the score’s notes could be sounded and having five players offered the opportunity for different scorings and timbral mixes. With the strings joined by the oboe in Contrapunctus II, their timbre was somewhat dominated by the more strident wind instrument, whereas the larger, mellower sound of the oboe d’amore blended splendidly with them, as in Contrapunctus IV. The artists also engaged in “colla parte” playing, a Baroque practice in which the highest instrument is doubled by another instrument, as in Contrapunctus VII, in which the recorder doubled the violin, the result being a very different and “new” instrumental timbre coming to the surface! So, one could say that, with each fugue, audience members were not only invited to follow the treatment of the fugal subjects but also to make their own personal decisions as to the effect of each different instrumental combination. For does the Baroque style not engage in questions of colour and taste? And how could the listener not ignore Bach’s daring utterances, as in the unconventional, somewhat wild, writing in Contrapunctus XI? As to the work’s conclusion (or lack thereof) are not most listeners shocked and disturbed in Contrapunctus XIV as the mammoth “Art of Fugue” trails off unfinished in the throes of this climactic four-part fugue, a piece which would have crowned the work as well as Bach’s career? And woven inside Contrapunctus XIV is the musical notation spelling out his name . . . B A C H. The PHOENIX players’ approach to the Art of Fugue was intelligent, articulate and devoted as they delved deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Bach’s counterpoint, its possibilities and expressive potential. Of the two new faces, there was young Jerusalemite Netanel Pollak (Baroque viola), a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and violinist Yaakov Rubinstein, a soloist and concertmaster with a prestigious international performing career on the modern violin. Rubinstein was concertmaster of the PHOENIX Orchestra's performance of the 19th century Brazilian Requiem. This was Rubinstein’s first foray into the world of Baroque violin. In keeping with PHOENIX's practice, both Pollak and Rubinstein took on board the minute details, complexity and subtelties of the work, collaborating impressively with the other players. It is hoped they will continue to appear in future PHOENIX projects. 


Once again, the Bach House in Eisenach (Germany) has added much interest to the Bach in Jerusalem Festival, setting up yet another fascinating exhibition in the YMCA foyer. Showing festival-goers around were the museum’s managing director Dr. Jörg Hansen and Mr. Benjamin Leins. Items of interest included the original manuscript of J.S.Bach’s Magnificat and the St. Matthew Passion, “Bach in Berlin”, the Bach goblet, “Numeric  Symbols in Bach’s Music”, a recording (and x-ray of the hands) of harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who had given the ground-breaking concert in Eisenach in 1911 (she was the first artist to record the Goldberg Variations) and, finally, the spectacular reconstruction of Bach’s face which the museum commissioned in 2008 and carried out using casts of the skull that was unearthed in 1894. The Bach House has been in operation for 111 years.


“Love Me Or Leave Me” was certainly a very different festival event. Drawing people of all ages to the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem on March 18th, Noam Vazana (vocals/ trombone/piano) hosted Ofer Portugali(piano), Arie Volnitz(bass) and Eitan Itzkovich(percussion) in an evening that included a selection of songs by Nina Simone. How does Nina Simone fit into a festival of Bach’s music? It turns out that she was a classically-trained pianist with a love of Baroque music and of Bach in particular. In fact, her dream was to become the first black American concert pianist. But, as fate and her lack of finance would have it, she began playing and singing in bars and clubs; in her songs and performance one can hear a strong influence of classical music and even quotes from works of J.S.Bach! Her song “Love Me or Leave Me” came about when she was attempting to write a fugue in the style of Bach. A versatile instrumentalist/singer, Noam Vazana is classically trained and the recipient of several awards. Her richly coloured voice, large vocal range, jazzy style, spontaneity and articulate English re-created the sentiments and messages of such Nina Simone numbers as “I Got Life”, “Little Girl Blue”, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “Four Women”. Another touching piece was “Boi” (Come with Me), a song Noam Vazana herself composed after having moved to Europe, a song addressed to herself, “to the child within me”. Here we heard her singing, playing piano and trombone. Adding to the musical interest and richness of the event was Vazana’s collaboration with three first class artists. Introducing each number, Noam Vazana, in her relaxed, upbeat manner, gave the audience the feeling that we were her guests.


The 3rd Bach in Jerusalem Festival signed out with the solo recital of violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky (Russia), in which he performed two of J.S.Bach’s solo Partitas. The festive closing concert took place at the Jerusalem International YMCA on March 21st. Although many people tend to view Bach as a keyboard virtuoso, he was also, however, as was his father, a highly skilled violinist and it was as a violinist that he obtained his first public appointment, playing in the Weimar Court Orchestra. Carl Philipp Emanuel spoke of his father as playing the violin “purely and penetratingly and thus kept the orchestra in best order, much better than he could have done from the harpsichord.” The pinnacle of Johann Sebastian’s writing for the violin is unquestionably the six unaccompanied works he wrote for the instrument and completed in 1720, when he was Capellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Sinkovsky opened with Partita No.1 in B-minor BWV 1002, setting the scene with his bold, exciting and finely-chiselled playing of the Allemanda. The Corrente emerged in a finely delineated manner, with the artist’s use of broad gestures together with his rich palette of dynamics in the Sarabande exuding a sense of discovery, this followed by the substantial textures of the Tempo di Borea. But what typifies Partita No.1 is the Double following- and based on each dance movement. In these, Sinkovsky’s dazzling playing offered fresh meaning, flexibility and colour. Then, to the very different Partita No.2 in D-minor BWV 1004. Following the artist’s leisurely, sensitive rendition of the Allemanda, came the dotted, Italian-style light-of-foot Corrente, an inspired Sarabanda and the artist’s buoyant and stirring playing of the Giga.  Sinkovsky’s performance of the mammoth Ciaccona theme and variations presented its world of techniques, textures, gestures and emotions in one organic, architectonic tripartite continuum, reminding the listener of how tender the central major section really is and how touching the return to the minor mode can be to the human spirit. Sinkovsky’s easeful virtuosity and clear musical vision took the listener, via rapid scale passages, double stopping and arpeggios, to the world of illusion of separately moving and interweaving voices. One of today’s most prestigious Baroque violinists, Dmitry Sinkovsky was playing on gut strings. A conductor and countertenor, Sinkovsky communicates warmly with his audience. This was his first Israeli performance.

Dmitry Sinkovsky (photo: Maxim Reider)