Wednesday, December 19, 2018

From Mozart to Ravel - Gideon (Gidi) Meir in a piano recital at the Teiva Hall in Jaffa, Israel

Photo:students of the Meishar Art School
Israeli harpsichordist, organist and pianist Gidi Meir gave a solo piano recital on December 10th 2018 in the intimate Teiva hall in Jaffa, Israel. Welcoming the audience, the artist spoke of programming as a challenging art, one fascinating in the connections it brings to light between the various works selected for the concert. This program was no exception. Meir likened the process to compiling a fine menu, but, unlike the perfect dining experience, the composers and works remain in close contact with the artist for the duration of the months of concert preparation.


The concert opened with “Cordoba” the fourth piece of “Cantos de España” (Songs of Spain), Op.232 (1896) by Spanish pianist, composer and conductor Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). Speaking about Albéniz, Meir made clear that he was not a composer of guitar music (several of his works have been transcribed for guitar) and that his oeuvre is much more comprehensive than the Albéniz’ “hits” familiar to so many people. A self-educated man, he was a child prodigy and a virtuoso pianist, his writing for piano influencing such composers as Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff. Of great importance is that Albéniz had significantly raised the profile of Spanish music abroad and encouraged musicians in his own country. Meir’s reading of the piece, engaging much use of the sustaining pedal, presented its richly vibrant tableau of modality and impressionistic harmonic devices, bell effects, sentimentality and melodiousness in playing that was personal, contemplative and reminiscent of bygone days.


It seems that Claude Debussy (1862-1918) began composing the “Suite Bergamasque” in 1890, while still a student, revising and publishing it in 1905; it is unknown how much of the work was completed in 1890 and/or in 1905. Profuse in impressionistic content, its third and most famous movement was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem “Clair de lune”. (Meir added that the other three movements are also influenced by its musical ideas.) Debussy went on to make two more settings of the poem for voice and piano accompaniment. It is not known whether the young Debussy had known Verlaine, one of the leaders of the Symbolist movement and a key figure in Paris’s vibrantly decadent fin-de-siècle cultural scene. Gidi Meir’s deep enquiry into the suite drew the listener’s attention to the work’s exotic harmonies, rich melodiousness and its moods, from the freshness and archaic grandeur of the Prelude, to the somewhat modal Minuet and the final piece (Passepied), its spirited, complex, contrasted sound created by staccato in the left hand, with flowing themes in the right hand, yet not devoid of an underlying sense of yearning. But it is the third piece (Clair de Lune) with its mysterious uniqueness and evocative moonlit scene that creates one of Debussy’s greatest- and most sensuous tone poems. Verlaine's poem was printed on the program; the artist read a Hebrew translation of it for those unfamiliar with French.
Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L'amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n'ont pas l'air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,
Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d'extase les jets d'eau,
Les grands jets d'eau sveltes parmi les marbres.
Allowing time for the magical vignette to unfold, Gidi Meir’s playing of it was articulate, its flow of rolling notes, luxuriant harmonies and intriguing dynamic phrases interwoven with touching, personal expression. It was Debussy himself who claimed that “the beauty of a work of art is something that will always remain mysterious.”


Prior to his playing of W.A.Mozart’s Sonata in F-major KV 332, Meir reminded the audience of the composer’s deep love of opera from a young age and its influence on almost all he wrote as well as on such composers as Debussy and Ravel. He added that, in his writing, Mozart’s humorous moments are serious and vice versa and that if this sonata were an opera, the protagonist would surely have been a woman! Aware that Mozart would have performed the sonata on a fortepiano, Meir’s decision was nevertheless to make maximum use of the Steinway grand at his disposal but to also engage in much ornamentation, as would any fortepianist of Mozart’s day. (Interestingly, ornamentation was added to Adagio in the Artaria printed edition, which was overseen by Mozart himself.) Meir’s rendition of the work was an experiential journey. The opening Allegro juxtaposed the bold first subject with the decidedly feminine second subject playing out their vocalistic roles within the pianist’s personal view of the narrative. Moving directly into the Adagio, Meir’s poignant playing of it, engaging in spreads and ample use of the sustaining pedal, showed the listener through its process, colouring minor sections in darker hues. As to the final Allegro, its sections of brilliant passagework contrasting with a more cantabile style, more “characters” took to the stage, some more songful, some more reticent, others displaying a sense of urgency. Meir’s playing, offering embellishments on the repeats, managed to convey Mozart’s own modesty, then to sign out with modest understatement.


Gidi Meir referred to Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” as involving two princesses.  One was the Princesse de Polignac, a painter of Socialist, feminist leanings, who commissioned the work and at whose stately Paris mansion Ravel probably performed the work on several occasions. The second was the Habsburg Infanta Margarita Teresa (1651-1673), a Spanish Renaissance princess who appears in a portrait series of Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez. Ravel stated that the piece’s only aim was “the pleasure of alliteration”, explaining that, considering he had no programmatic image in mind, it was.”not a funeral lament for a dead child, but rather an evocation of the pavane that might have been danced by such a little princess as painted by Velázquez”. Although composed in 1899, when the composer was still a student at the Conservatoire de Paris, Gidi Meir views the work as as mature as it is naive, integrating early music, Blues and the influence of gamelan music. Meir’s performance, underlining its haunting subtlety and expressive, somewhat Spanish melodiousness, was substantial and warmly nostalgic (rather than insipid and grief-ridden, as too often heard), a celebration of its harmonic interest, with its ceremonial Pavane dance form referring to early court music.


For his encore, Gidi Meir played "Serenade for a Doll" from Debussy's "Children's Corner Suite", its delicate melody played in parallel fourths, charm and naivety sending the audience home with another taste of the fragility and exotic harmonies of Impressionistic music.


Gidi Meir’s recital was a profoundly personal revisiting of the piano, his first instrument. Having performed widely as a harpsichordist, his rich background in early music afforded him understanding of connections between all the works on the program and their own references to music of earlier styles. He is an musician of conviction, an artist who communicates with his audiences as naturally in words as he does with sounds.


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