Friday, January 18, 2019

Octopus, the Israel Pianists Quartet, performs works from Norway, Russia, Czechia, Hungary and a new Israeli work at the Mormon University, Jerusalem

Meir Wiesel,Ifat Zaidel,Tavor Gochman,Bart Berman (photo:Maxim Reider)
“40 Fingers around the World” was an apt title for the latest concert of Octopus - Israel Pianists Quartet - at the Sunday Evening Classics series of the Jerusalem Center for Far Eastern Studies on January 13th, 2019. Featuring four pianists playing on two pianos, Octopus was founded in 2013. Its eight hands are those of Ifat Zaidel, Bart Berman, Tavor Gochman and Meir Wiesel. Certainly a rare combination, the ensemble’s players are of diverse ages, hailing from Holland, Morocco and Israel. Much of their repertoire consists of arrangements; however, some new works have been written for the ensemble by Yosef Bardanashvili, Eran Ashkenazi, Naama Perel, Tzvi Avni and their own Meir Wiesel. Octopus will be performing at the Novi Sad Festival (Serbia) in July 2019.

The artists opened with a magical, picturesque reading of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1 Op.46, as arranged by Adolf Ruthardt. Their delicate, evocative rendition of “Morning Mood” presented Grieg’s description of sunrise over the Moroccan desert, its melody singing over long-held, static bass notes and unfolding mysteriously. Following the artists’ buoyant and incisive playing of “Anitra’s Dance”, with its seductive melody and playful chromaticism, their rendition of  “The Death of Ase”, majestic yet intimate, ascribed  Peer Gynt’s mother more respect than did Gynt himself! Then to the underground palace “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and its dark caverns, its grotesque, hopping course and richly dissonant music becoming more and more menacing as it grew in volume and drama to an epic finale.

The piano arrangement of Alexander Glazunov’s orchestral fantasy “The Sea” Op.28 (1889) was penned by the composer himself, actually creating the vast seascape in no-less impressive dimensions than the orchestral version. The Octopus players’ descriptive presentation of the work, now decidedly pianistic, had the audience perched at the edge of their seats. Its rich agenda of nature’s moods, from squalls soaring to dramatic, tumultuous proportions, to moments of almost visual brightness and of restored serene tranquility, called forth the many facets of the sea, its beauty and its power. Glazunov’s own attached program, read by Wiesel, explains that the work depicts what is seen by a man looking out from the shore over a vast seascape; Glazunov adds his own personal message, claiming that  "everything the man had seen and all that he had felt in his soul, he recounted later to other men."

And to the world premiere of Meir Wiesel’s programmatic one poem “Ostinaton”, dedicated to fellow musician Bart Berman on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Wiesel set the scene with his eloquent narration of the work’s agenda: “Imagine you are walking in space. Everything is quiet, but, from time to time, interruptions occur. Aton, the Egyptian god of the sun, is watching you…” In an eerie, otherworldly manner, the chordal work evokes the person’s steps in chords some of a tonal nature, some with added dissonances, the ever-present steps occasionally diverting from rhythmic regularity, at others, punctuated by disturbing, grotesque comments (strange creatures?) or echoes. It’s quite a journey! Wiesel’s work creates a unique atmosphere, both beguiling and disturbing, as he takes the listener on a walk through infinity.

Back on terra firma, to Anton Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance in E-minor Op.46 No.2. Before orchestrating his two sets of Slavonic Dances, they were written as piano duets (one piano), indeed remunerative for both composer and publisher. The Slavonic Dances were arranged for eight hands by German music editor Robert Keller, who worked for the N.Simrock music publisher.  In dealing with his own native idiom, Dvořák did not use existing folk tunes in his dances, but created his own themes in the authentic style of Eastern European traditional  music, creating superb, idealized examples of their genres. The E-minor Slavonic Dance, in the form of a Ukrainian dumka, was performed with moments of lyricism and nostalgic yearning alternating with hearty, carefree sections. An infectious and  beautifully crafted performance. Remaining in Eastern Europe, Octopus concluded its world tour with a hearty Konzertstück - Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.9, also known as “Carnival in Pest”; this, like the work before it, has also undergone a number of transcriptions, from  the original piano version, to a version for orchestra and for piano duet. Meeting Emil Kronke’s setting of it for eight hands at eye level, the players gave vivid expression to the work’s various tableaux, its Hungarian dances, its personal moments and its marvellously extravagant finale.

A fitting encore for their Jerusalem concert, the Octopus pianists performed Bart Barman’s artistic and sensitive arrangement of “Jerusalem of Gold” (Naomi Shemer), with its subtle  sprinkling of harmonic caprices. This was followed by their bold, zesty and high-spirited  playing of Aram Khachaturian’s  “Sabre Dance”. With its repertoire of various styles, the Israel Pianists Ensemble has much to offer its audiences, but it is the close collaboration of its members and their addressing of music’s smallest details that produce the quartet’s distinctive transparency- and beauty of sound.


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