Sunday, April 7, 2019

Ensemble PHOENIX performs quintets for clarinet and strings at the 2019 Felicja Blumental International, Tel Aviv

Matan Dagan,Tali Goldberg,Myrna Herzog,Rachel Ringelstein,Gili Rinot (photo:Yoel Levy)
To my left was Gustav Klimt’s extraordinary painting of Friederike Maria Beer set against an imaginary oriental screen (1916); directly ahead, the eye-catching play of colour in Wassily Kandinsky’s Untitled Improvisation V (1914), somewhat abstract, yet revealing identifiable forms - mountains, hills, trees and a galloping horse. The venue was the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Mizne-Blumental Gallery and the occasion was Ensemble PHOENIX’ concert of “Quintets for Clarinet and Strings”, an event on March 30th of the 2019 Felicja Blumental International Music Festival. Playing on historic instruments were violinists Matan Dagan and Tali Goldberg, Rachel Ringelstein-viola, Gili Rinot-clarinet and basset clarinet, with PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog on the ‘cello.


Arousing much curiosity among the audience, the program opened with Quintet in E-flat major for clarinet and strings, Op.57 by German violinist, composer and court musician Andreas Romberg (1767-1821), Not really a familiar figure to today’s audiences, Romberg’s oeuvre includes eight operas, ten symphonies and twenty violin concertos. It was in Bonn in the 1880s that he and his cousin Bernhard Heinrich Romberg played in the orchestra of Maximilian of Austria - the orchestra in which Antonín Reicha (1770-1836) played 2nd flute and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) played viola! After spending time in Paris, Andreas Romberg settled in Hamburg, where he became a central figure in the city's musical life, in 1815 succeeding Louis Spohr as music director at the court of the Duke, in Gotha, Thuringia. Scored for clarinet, violin I, viola/violin II, viola II, and ‘cello, the PHOENIX artists performed the two-violin option, with Matan Dagan playing first violin. They gave explicit expression to the sense of well-being prevailing in Romberg’s music, maintaining diligent balance between strings and clarinet, giving attention to motifs and the individual colour of each key visited. How warm, amiable and well-shaped Rinot’s playing of the Menuetto melody was, with the minor-key Trio given a suave reading by Dagan, the interpolated Allegretto hinting at the country dance style, but devoid of bucolic heaviness. There was a building up of tension in the following Larghetto, but not reaching dramatic proportions.  As to the Finale, the players coloured each gesture and change (Romberg is not able to stay away from exuberant utterance for very long) as they good-naturedly teased the listener with the occasional tempo change and other kindly surprises. Inventive, melodious and inviting players to engage in Classical directness and fine musicianship, Romberg’s E-flat major Quintet, clearly paying homage to Mozartian charm, deserves to be heard more often.


Then, to Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor, Hob.III:43 Op.42, 13 minutes of pure beauty, a mature work (the autograph is marked 1785) showing the composer’s heightened attention to the ‘cello role (and, in fact, to that of the viola), as its score displays Haydn’s perfection of balance and proportion. From the first movement, with its puzzling inscription of “Andante ed innocentemente” (Herzog commented that Haydn was far from naive) presented as elegant, serene and profound but not austere, the PHOENIX players indeed highlighted the joyous sophistication created by the interplay of instruments as well as that of its phrases. For the second movement, they engaged in the juxtaposing of textures in playing of charm and delicacy, this to be followed by Dagan’s reflective and poetic playing of the melodic course of the third movement. Goldberg then whisked the listener into the Haydnesque freshness and energy of the Finale, as all four artists “breathed” the music as one in a radiant ensemble blend, giving meaning to its gestures and small silences.


Gili Rinot re-joined the string players to perform W.A.Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major, K 581, this time on a basset-clarinet. Referring to its “soft, sweet breath”, Mozart loved the clarinet, considering it ideal for chamber music with strings. A new instrument still undergoing change, Anton Stadler, the second clarinet of the Viennese Imperial Court orchestra and a member of the Kaiser's wind octet, was motivated to experiment with extending the instrument's “chalumeau” (lower register) through the addition of length and several keys. The resulting instrument was the basset clarinet, nowadays almost universally recognized as the correct instrument for performance of the Mozart Concerto K 622, of this quintet and the late operas. Gili Rinot referred to the basset clarinet as an “impractical instrument” which quickly sank into obscurity, only now enjoying a revival. Rinot’s basset clarinet is a replica made by Agnès Guéroult (Paris). The A major Quintet is not a work for solo clarinet and string accompaniment; Rinot and the string players were equal partners where the clarinet blended splendidly with the strings, as individual strings occasionally took centre stage, to be accompanied by the clarinet. Mozart’s wealth of sublime themes and their development emerged via the unique magical sound world created by Mozart’s mix of the five instrumental timbres.  Add to that the first movement’s string solos graced by a variety of appealing clarinet comments and ornamenting, sensitive melodiousness passed from Dagan to Rinot in the tranquil Larghetto fashioned with punctilious coordination, the appealing Menuetto with its two Trios - the first for violin, with Dagan’s gentle flexing pulling at the heart strings, the second, a Ländler-type dance for clarinet - and the Allegretto with its set of variations - good-humoured, reticent, serious and moving - with the fourth showcasing the virtuosic ability of the clarinet.


PHOENIX members play on period instruments, on gut strings and with early bows, stimulating a warmth of sound and natural timbral beauty that go hand-in-glove with Classical works of the kind performed at the Tel Aviv concert. Clearly delighted by the evening’s program, the festival audience sensed it was in the hands of five outstanding musicians, their renditions of the three works the result of deep, detailed and informed enquiry enmeshed with emotional involvement. The spacious Mizne-Blumental Gallery, surrounding the listener with its 19th- and 20th masterpieces, made for a most delightful concert venue.


No comments: