Monday, April 15, 2019

At a house concert in Jerusalem, Trio Noga performs works from the 18th- to the 21st centuries

Orit Messer-Jacobi,Idit Shemer,Maggie Cole (courtesy Trio Noga)
Trio Noga (Idit Shemer-flute, Orit Messer-Jacobi-’cello and Maggie Cole-piano) has recently given a series of concerts in various locations in Israel. Formed some four years ago, the trio undertakes two concert tours a year. With individual careers in period instrument performance as well as a shared appreciation of "modern" instrument timbres, the trio members bring their audience uniquely personal and sensitive interpretations of repertoire ranging from the late 18th century to the early 21st century, also premiering works of contemporary Israeli composers. This writer attended the concert at a private home in Jerusalem on April 8th 2019.


The program opened with Joseph Haydn’s Trio in G major, Hob.XV:15 (1790), the second of three of the composer’s trios for flute, ‘cello and piano. If necessity is the mother of invention, here is a classical (Classical!) case: with the flute a favourite instrument of the aristocracy and of London’s genteel bourgeoisie, Haydn, who had previously written little music for the instrument, received a commission for a set of three trios for piano with flute and ‘cello, bringing him to London. Not that the three instruments are equal players: in what refers back to Baroque instrumentation, the ‘cello here is still mostly closely linked to the left-hand of the piano, functioning in a supporting role. In spirited tempos and well-defined rhythms, the Noga players gave freshness to Haydn’s abundance of invention, cheerful sense of well-being and Haydnesque surprises, with the forays into minor keys, darker, pensive moments but never tragic, always to find their way back to joyful utterances. Shemer and Cole engaged in close dialogue. Haydn’s wit was never far away, evident in such gestures as the prolonged piano cadenzas.


Claude Debussy’s "Petite Suite" was originally written for four hands piano in 1889. Debussy was 27. It has also been transcribed several times - for orchestra, clarinets, for harp, brass band, and for chamber wind ensemble. The arrangement we heard was by Israeli ‘cellist, pianist and composer Doron Toister. The first tone poem  “En bateau” (On a Boat) probably inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name, a sensuous text set on a skiff that floats across dreamy, moonlit water, was illuminated by Idit Shemer’s silky floating, long-spanning melody winding its way nostalgically above the murmur of gently rolling piano chords, pizzicato and occasional melodic comments on the part of Messer-Jacobi. “Cortège” (Procession) another, somewhat more curious poem from the Verlaine collection, describes a genteel lady preceded by her pet monkey, the train of her dress carried by a helper. Here, the artists’ individual expression melds into lively tutti sections, punctuated by occasional reflective moments. Out of the weave of  the vivid timbres making up the fabric of the Menuet, Debussy’s winsome  quasi-oriental, quasi-modal melody emerges, to be followed by “Ballet”, its outer sections majestic and hearty, its middle section coy and reticent.


As young piano students, many of us have played pieces by Kuhlau. He also wrote much and well for the flute and, although referred to as the “Beethoven of the flute”, was not a flautist.  Having fled from Germany to Denmark in 1810, his influence on Danish music was considerable. Outside of Denmark, he was known primarily as a concert pianist. Friedrich Kuhlau’s Grand Trio Op.119 (1831), one of his last works, was originally written for two flutes and piano; the composer himself arranged the second flute part for ‘cello (or bassoon), elevating that role to the status of an equal partner with the other instruments. Trio Noga’s performance of the hearty work highlighted the composer’s natural gift for melodic writing, for exploiting the timbres and technical prowess of each and the interaction between them. A congenial and entertaining work performed in its most natural setting - the private music salon!


Israeli-born composer/singer Ayala Asherov’s “Seasons” (2010), taking its inspiration from four poems of Israeli poet laureate Chaim Nahman Bialik, the work winning her the 2011 Chamber Music Composition Award at the biennial Athena Music Festival, is a set of tone poems of a lyrical and rhapsodic character. I had the privilege of hearing the work performed by Trio Noga in 2018, with the composer herself reading the poems. A work well suited to the Noga players with their precise and profound reading of it presenting nature descriptions intertwined with the composer’s personal ruminations, each piece concludes with an underlying sense of sadness, or was it Asherov’s pining for her homeland when away for a number of years? The artists set the scene with a magical, dreamy summer soundscape; “Fall” opened with Cole’s reticent arpeggios over which flute and ‘cello proceeded to converse, the scene evoking autumnal melancholy. Then the uncompromising, harsh image of winter, its squalls and malevolence created by driving rhythms and dramatic textural intensity, to be followed by the re-awakening of nature and the human spirit in “Spring” played in a celebratory manner, with allusions to Israeli folk dances, nevertheless to take its leave deep in thought. Shemer, Cole and Messer-Jacobi have probed and processed Asherov’s fine work with insight.


The artists took advantage of the informal house concert situation to offer just a few explanations on each work. Playing on a high-quality electronic piano, Maggie Cole gave convincing renditions of the four works, each of which, she explained might have been played on a different piano! Once again, the outcome of Trio Noga’s fine teamwork and artistic enquiry was performance of the highest level.


The audience gently hummed along as Trio Noga members concluded the evening with a sensitive and lavishly melodious performance of Israeli composer Avi Bar-Eitan’s arrangement of Oded Lerer’s familiar melody “I Ask for Forgiveness” to a poem of Lea Goldberg.


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