Monday, February 18, 2019

Notes from the 2019 Eilat Chamber Music Festival. Four concerts. Artists from France, the UK, Armenia, Holland, Germany, Finland, Israel

Jan-Paul Roozeman, Jonathan Roozeman (photo: Maxim Reider)
Opening the 2019 Eilat Chamber Music Festival at the Dan Eilat Hotel on February 6th, the Elias Quartet (UK) offered those seeing in the festival a chamber music concert with a couple of differences. A daring gesture In the world of authentic early music performance and period instruments, the players - Sara Bitiloch, Donald Grant-violins, Simone van der Giessen-viola and Marie Bitiloch-’cello - chose to start with two of Henry Purcell’s Fantazias - Z739 and Z741. Written at a time when viols had largely given way to violins, their inspiration coming from Matthew Locke’s fantasias, Purcell specified that the Fantazias be played on viols. Limiting their use of vibrato, the Elias players (on modern instruments) showed a real understanding of the genre, giving expression to Purcell’s masterful use of contrapuntal devices, tension and dissonance, as each section carried a change of mood. With their strategic use of small pauses, the Elias Quartet’s reading of the Fantazias was moving and unmannered, at the same time both restrained and free. Sandwiched between the two less conventional outer works of the program was Robert Schumann’s String Quartet No.1/1 in A-minor, the Elias Quartet’s rendition of it intelligent and fresh, with attention to detail, gestures and emotions and energy addressed and rewarding, perhaps not  with quite the heart-on-sleeve urgency of Schumann writing all three of the Op.41 Quartets within just two months as a birthday gift to his beloved wife. The last item of the program related to Scottish folk music, a tradition in which Donald Grant is steeped from much exposure to it, having grown up in the Scottish Highlands. The quartet played Grant’s delicate arrangements of several very old tunes and some of his own original- but typically Scottish melodies, some with drones (bagpipes) and also early fiddle technique. Especially fascinating was the 400-year-old practice of “puirt à beul” (mouth music), sung at parties for people to dance to where there were no instruments; Grant’s singing of these “patter” songs was as unassuming as it was agile, evoking the ambience of a social gathering rather than the concert hall.


The Busch Trio (UK) - Omri Epstein-piano, Mathieu van Bellen-violin, Ori Epstein-’cello - performed on February 7th. Formed in London in 2012, the trio began its 2019 Eilat Festival concert with Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio in C-major Hob.XV:27, the artists' sparkling, warm and buoyant performance enquiring into the playful-, the serious- and the emotional aspects of the work, their musical teamwork probing the subtleties of the relationships between the parts. A work showcasing the pianist and the piano itself, Omri Epstein’s playing was totally engaging, his approach sensitive, his use of the sustaining pedal indeed generous. This was followed by a very different take on the same tonality - Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio No.2 in C-major - in which the artists affectionately captured the work’s wealth of textures, emotion and complexity of the instrumental weave. In their moving and wonderfully crafted playing, the artists presented Brahms’ inner world of yearning and tenderness, the composer’s distinctive seriousness never far from the surface and ever ready to pervade the scene. And to Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio No.4 in E-minor Op.90, B166 ”Dumky”, a performance bounteous in contrasts, the charm and lushness of Bohemian folk melodies as well as some splendidly pensive and fragile moments. In playing tending to elegance and subtlety, never muscular or overloaded, we were treated to delectable tutti, but also to some highly expressive solos and duets. Formed in 20112, the Busch Trio plumbs the depths of meaning of the piano trio repertoire, presenting it with young energy, sensibilité, emotional honesty and refinement.


“Tzigane”, a morning concert on February 8th, featured violinist David Grimal (France), no new face to the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, this time, however, performing with pianist Grigor Asmaryan (Armenia/Germany) who was making his Israeli concert debut. Referring to the theme of the program, Grimal said: “I wanted to combine works connecting with that of George Enescu, such as the César Franck... Of course, if you combine it [Enescu] with Franck’s Sonata in A major and Ravel’s ‘Tzigane’ you have this Romantic- and gypsy side of music...French, Hungarian and Romanian.” The artists chose to open with César Franck’s Sonata in A-major for violin and piano, spelling out the mysterious, gentle nostalgia of the first movement, to burgeon into intensity and grandeur in the Allegro (second) movement. Throughout the work, the artists’ virtuosity served the work’s stiff technical demands, but predominantly its musical agenda, its “orchestrated” aspects, its many moods, its wistful moments and its empathy, all incorporated into playing telling of spontaneity, beauty of tone and seamless collaboration. Grimal has referred to George Enescu’s Sonata No.3 for violin and piano as “music inspired by the composer’s own country and by French music, also bordering on the style of gypsy music.”  Enescu’s careful wording of the work’s subtitle “In the character of Romanian folk music” endorses this. Creating a new and different language of violin expression, Enescu’s score bristles with extremely detailed instructions; his writing for the piano is no less than daring.  Asmaryan and Grimal gave expression to the work’s wealth of musical ideas - its use of oriental-sounding scales, bi-tonality, its large, uncompromising soundscapes versus otherworldly flageolet textures, but also to its references to simple, bucolic dances. The colourful, evocative canvas gave rise to much individual expression on the part of both artists, their magical bowing out of each movement luring the listener into lingering on momentarily in the aura of the music. The program concluded with a work deeply imbedded in Hungarian Gypsy folklore and music - Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane” - dedicated to- and inspired by Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi, an artist of decidedly psychic disposition, with whom Ravel consulted in the course of its composition. His letter penned to her read: “You have inspired me to write a short piece of diabolical difficulty, conjuring up the Hungary of my dreams. Since it will be for violin, why don’t I call it Tzigane?”  Whether its origins lie in musical satire or not, the piece is written in true violin idiom, despite the fact that the composer had never played the violin. Opening with the violin alone, playing lento in a lengthy introduction similar to a cadenza or free fantasia and ending with trills in double stops, Grimal presented the audience with a kaleidoscope of violin techniques and textures. Asmaryan’s entry of arpeggiated utterances had a decidedly mollifying effect on the music’s weave, the piano role constituting a graphic imitation of the cymbalum, a native Hungarian instrument (actually, a harp on its side played by tiny hammers.) Ravel’s “showpiece à la hongroise” (in his own words), no stumbling block to Grimal and Asmaryan, constituted a fine festival Konzertstück to round off the recital. For their encores, the artists then played three works of charming melodiousness - Ferenc Vecsey: “Valse Triste”, Moritz Moszkowski: “Guitarre” and Manuel Ponce: “Estrellita” - referred to by Grimal as “some sweets”.


“Arpeggione”, the morning concert on February 9th was performed by Finnish-born brothers Jonathan Roozeman-’cello and Jan-Paul Roozeman-piano. They opened their recital with Luigi Boccherini’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano in A-major G.4, an early work of the composer (who was actually one of the best-known ‘cellists of his time). The Sonata is a cross between the late Baroque- and galant styles. Clear and concise, it includes many embellishments but, unlike Baroque composers, Boccherini uses the higher range of the ‘cello and some very fast arpeggiations. Claude Debussy’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano in D-minor (1915) was to have been one of six instrumental sonatas the composer had intended to write for various instruments; only three were completed at the time of his death. In its experimental writing, abounding with surprising interjections, short bursts of accented notes, sudden tempo changes, tonal- and non-tonal language and in its unconventional effects in ‘cello writing, the Roozeman brothers presented the work in a spontaneous, expressive and captivating light, as a composition of startling modernist originality, but also reflecting the composer faced with his own mortality. As to the perplexing Sérénade movement, referring to the Sonata’s original title based on Albert Giraud’s poem “Pierrot Lunaire”, (a puppet character from the commedia dell’arte), the artists highlighted its strange, perplexing, detached playfulness before launching into the Finale with its inexhaustible array of instrumental effects. Paying tribute to the country of their birth, the Roozeman brothers performed two short works of Jean Sibelius - the elegiac, contented and appealing Romance in C-major Op.42 (1904), followed by Malinconia for ‘Cello and Piano Op.20 (1900), whose tragic mood reflects the composer’s grief at losing his daughter to typhus. Engaging in its virtuosity and complexity, the artists gave poignant and intense expression to the work’s dark agenda, albeit punctuated by the occasional ray of light, but then to end with the ‘cello reaching down into the profundity of its range with tense trills as the piano plunged into its deepest register. The recital concluded with the duo's playing of Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata in A-minor D.821 (arr: Dobrinka Tabakova). The artists took into consideration the gentle timbre of the short-lived arpeggione - a fretted, six-stringed instrument of strings resonating sympathetically, also referred to at the time as a "bowed guitar". The work also reflects Schubert’s fragility at the outset of his fatal illness. Engaging in its challenges, its tender melodiousness and sparkling virtuosic passages, the Roozeman brothers did not present the Arpeggione as a showpiece, rather, engaging in its warm cantabile expression, its exhilarating and playful aspects and its underlying seriousness, as they graced their playing with subtle flexing and meaningful transitions. For their encore, Jonathan and Jan-Paul Roozeman played Niccolò Paganini’s “Variations on One String on a Theme by Rossini”, the perfect show-capper, the audience revelled in its challenges and vigour!

David Grimal, Grigor Asmaryan (photo: Lior Friedman)


No comments: