Thursday, August 30, 2018

Sounding Jerusalem 2018 - "Idealism": the Grazissimo Brass Quintet, the Galatea String Quartet and friends in a concert of outstanding performance

Rainer Auerbach with members of the Grazissimo Brass Quintet (Christian Jungwirth)
Taking place on August 27th in the inspiring surroundings of the Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion, Jerusalem, “Idealism”, a concert of the 2018 Sounding Jerusalem Festival, featured two very different ensembles.

The program opened with a selection of pieces performed by the Grazissimo Brass Quintet. Formed in 2014, its members - Karner Stefan , Lukas Hirzberger (Trumpets) Matthias Singer (horn), Wolfgang Haberl (trombone), Tobias Weiss (tuba) and Bernhard Richter (percussion) - met as students of Reinhard Summerer at the Graz University of the Arts. The ensemble opened with a dance of Antony Holborne, one of the most acclaimed and prolific dance composers of the English Renaissance. Remaining in the Renaissance, we heard five dances from Tilman Susato’s “Danserye”, music probably written for wealthy Netherlands amateur musicians rather than professional dance musicians and still delighting early music ensembles today. Here, in festive or melodious legato dances, the young artists’ polished presentation highlighted contrasts of character, using a variety of dynamics, register and colour as they juxtaposed the concept of “tutti” sections with more pared-down textures. The artists’ reading of the Largo from Handel’s opera seria “Xerxes”, beautifully shaped and tender, was indeed a highlight. German trumpeter Rainer Auerbach then joined four of the quintet members to perform the second movement of Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major (for strings and continuo) by Johann Baptist Georg Neruda (1707-1780), a little-known Czech Classical composer who had moved to Dresden in 1750 to join the court orchestra there. In this movement, the ensemble offers the first statement of the main theme, to be followed by the solo trumpet with an elaboration and extension of the same material. A cadenza precedes the second orchestral section of the movement and the soloist leads the way back to the original key and to a second cadenza. Auerbach’s steady, genial and warmly singing tone, subtle inflections and nimble facility gave noble expression to this charming pre-Classical work. The Grazissimo Brass Quintet concluded the first half of the concert with one Contrapunctus from J.S.Bach’s “Art of Fugue”, the members’ playing rich in fine articulation, well delineated lines and inspired by the excitement generated by Bach’s profuse counterpoint.

Following a short intermission, the prestigious Swiss Galatea Quartet - violinists Yuka Tsuboi and Sarah Kilchenmann, violist Hugo Bollschweiler and ‘cellist Julien Kilchenmann - were joined by Israeli violist Tali Kravitz and ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter (Austria), founder and director of the Sounding Jerusalem Festival, for a performance of Antonin Dvořák’s String Sextet in A-major. Written within two weeks in May 1878, the String Sextet was written between the composer’s work on the first and second Slavonic Rhapsodies, in the middle of his so-called Slavic period, a time when the composer was intent on to introducing Slavic folk elements into his music. Here, he extends the traditional quartet ensemble to including a second viola and cello in order to create the rich tone colour and vibrant sound of the highly-coloured thematic material. A work characterized by its sunny atmosphere and spontaneous appeal on the concert platform, the Jerusalem performance, (unlike so many “muscular” performances of the work), led by Yuka Tsuboi’s exquisitely expressive playing, shone in freshness and warmth of sound, delicacy and elegance. Without detracting from the buoyancy and high spirits of the stream of Slavic folk dances, the subtlety displayed by all six artists guaranteed transparency of textures, highlighting the numerous filigree melodic lines, their strategic timing and collaboration resulting in beguiling expression of Dvořák’s inventive contrapuntal treatment and imaginative harmonies and reminding the listener that this colourful, vigorous folk idiom does also give a voice to occasional dreaminess and languor.

Photo: Christian Jungwirth

Friday, August 24, 2018

The 2018 Sounding Jerusalem Festival gets off to a lively start with "Poet Acts"

Photo: Gerald Rockenschaub

The Sounding Jerusalem Festival was established in 2006 and continues to be directed by Austrian ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter. A chamber music project of the highest level, its aims are to reach people living in Jerusalem and the surroundings, irregardless of ethnic-, social- or religious backgrounds, “to promote magnificent and dynamic chamber music within superb surroundings...fostering...respectful dialogue between people from Europe and the Middle East” in Huetter’s words. The 8th Sounding Jerusalem Festival, “Humanistic Instinct”, will include nine concerts that are free to the public as well as workshops and seminars for young musicians.

“Poet Acts”, the opening event of the 2018 festival, took place in the historic courtyard of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 21st.  Wolfgang Schmidt, provost of the Jerusalem Redeemer Church, extended a warm welcome to the audience, suggesting that holding the festival in the Old City was a symbol of sharing life, with music as a mediator. Also present at the concert were diplomatic representatives of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. In Erich Oskar Huetter’s introduction, the director said he hoped these would be encounters whose memory we would take away with us. Referring to the festival as a “strong mid-European initiative”, he spoke of the concept of “humanistic instinct” as two ideas that might conflict with each other, but as coming together in the universal language of music.He alluded to the opening concert as “beginning a new journey”.

The program opened with flautist Vanessa Latzko (Austria), guitarist Armin Egger (Austria) and  Huetter performing Hans Neemann’s arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s Cassation in C-major. A term common in southern Germany, Austria and Bohemia in the mid-to-later part of the 18th  century, (the word 'cassation' is of disputed origin) there is no discerning specific formal characteristics that could distinguish the cassation from other serenade-like genres. Considering the fact that cassations were, however, intended primarily for entertainment and often for outdoor performance, here was the ideal occasion for such a work. Haydn termed several of his early chamber works cassations (or divertimentos.) A work of galant appeal, Viennese good humour and caressing melodies, Latzko soloed elegantly, at other times, engaging in dialogue with the guitar; Egger at times joined Huetter to form a more solid accompaniment for the flute, with Huetter taking care throughout not to mask the delicate timbres of the flute and guitar.

The Grand Trio by W.A.Mozart (K. 304) is the fourth of the “Palatine” Sonatas originally written for violin and piano in 1778 when the composer was living in Paris. The arrangement by French guitarist and music publisher Pierre Jean Porro (1750-1831) calls for violin, guitar and ‘cello. The form of this work is atypical, having only two movements, the opening Allegro non tanto followed by a Tempo di Minuet. It is one of the composer’s very few sonatas composed in minor keys, the reason for this endorsed by Dutch musicologist Marius Flothius, who wrote:  ”Mozart’s loneliness, indeed his feelings of despair in the great city, where he was largely neglected and where his mother fell ill and died, leave their mark on this work.” With the flute taking on the violin role, the piece assumes a more lyrical character in this scoring, presenting less of the work’s intense and painful message as heard when performed with violin. But the artists highlighted the work’s mysterious elements, as they presented pleasing solos and duets in attentive awareness and a strategic balance of sound.
Then to what Erich Oskar Huetter referred to as “opening up the concept”. Leaving the world of Classical chamber music, the artists went on to perform pieces by American composer Philip Glass (b.1937), beginning with Armin Egger’s very fine guitar solo from “Einstein on the Beach”, his playing intricate, articulate and beguiling as he guided the listener through the “additive process” that constitutes the rhythmic core of Glass’s style, but also through  its harmonic elements and melodic cells and giving the stage to the piece’s contrasting sections. “Facades”, referring to the facades of buildings on Wall Street, was originally written in 1981 to accompany a scene in the cult film “Koyaanishqatsi”. The scene, of New York’s Wall Street on a Sunday morning, was eventually cut from the film, but the piece later became movement no. 5 of “Glassworks”, Glass’s groundbreaking studio album that remains highly representative of his style. A meditative piece, Latzko and Egger’s performance of it was appealing and tranquil, with Glass’s dissonances appearing, disappearing and reappearing in the guitar role, as the Old City’s church bells outside added their voice to the composition. In “The Poet Acts” (whence  the concert’s title) Huetter’s haunting, warmly nostalgic playing of the work’s sweeping, Romantic melodies was complemented by Egger’s gently swayed rhythms.

Taking the concept in a different direction, we heard Aniada A Noar (Austria) in a selection of Austrian folk songs and dances as well as in performances of  their own original folk-style material. Formed 33 years ago, the trio displays remarkable versatility:  the members - Wolfgang Moitz, Bertl Pfundner and Andreas Safer - play the violin, button accordion, recorder, the pipes, guitar, bird whistles, Jew’s harp, etc; they all sing and harmonize well. Singing of winter, a musician’s life, trains and other subjects, their music-making bristled with joy, humour and colour as they conjured up scenes of Austrian nature, village life and merrymaking, together  with foot-stamping, whistles and the wink of an eye. To end the evening’s concert, all six artists joined to perform a folk-style piece that gradually spiralled into a hopping, carefree dance before signing out in winsome gestures.