Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet performs works for trio, quartet and quintet at the Willy Brandt Center, Jerusalem

Photo courtesy the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet
On March 29th 2019, the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet, now into its tenth season, performed a concert of works from the Baroque to the 20th century at the Willy Brandt Center, Jerusalem. Founded by young Israeli musicians seeking to bring fine woodwind repertoire and commissioned works to wider audiences, the ensemble performs more than 20 concerts per season. Its international tours have included Switzerland (2017) and France and Germany (2018); the quintet will tour China in May of 2019. The TAWQ makes a practice of performing and recording music of leading Israeli composers of both the older and younger generation and has recorded two discs.  Quintet members are Roy Amotz-flute, Yigal Kaminka-oboe, Itamar Leshem-horn, Nadav Cohen-bassoon and Danny Erdman-clarinet. The musicians are each also involved in solo careers.


The Jerusalem program opened with Gioachino Rossini’s Quartet No.4 in B-flat played on flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon; a very early work (Rossini was 12 when he wrote it) it was originally scored for strings but also heard in other settings. Very much a solo work for the flute, the work is not without interplay among the four voices, with each of the instruments given a say. Placed between two exuberant movements, the Andantino emerged lush with cantabile melodiousness, to be followed by the Allegretto, a playful rondo featuring lively dialogue between flute and clarinet, this already displaying Rossini’s penchant for the Italian opera buffa style.


We then heard György Ligeti’s  Sechs Bagatellen for woodwind quintet (1953), written when the composer was still a young man in Budapest. Ligeti derived the Six Bagatelles from an earlier set of eleven short movements for solo piano titled “Musica Ricercata” (1951-53). He relied on pitch class variety as the organizing element of the pieces as each inhabits its own world in terms of structure. However, their associations.referring to the composer and his times play no lesser role, as was heard in the explanations preceding the performance and indeed in the quintet’s performance of the work, which was Informed and profound. Ligeti expressed his hatred of the ideology-bound cultural world of dictatorship. In his own words: ''I am in a prison. One wall is the avant-garde, the other is the past. I want to escape.'' Two Bagatelles make reference to his Hungarian background: Strident and bathed in dissonances, Bagatelle No.2, for example, elegiac, at times nostalgic, at others even eerie in mood, pays homage to the Hungarian folk song genre, to end enigmatically on a major chord. Bagatelle No.5, “Béla Bartók in memoriam”, with its eastern-style melody on flute, insistent chords and dejected ending, was clearly an expression of pain. The artists however also highlighted the character and originality of the faster bagatelles - Bagatelle No.3’s quirky cross-rhythm staccati against the most singing of melodies, No.4 with its feisty, wild Balkan dance rhythms and No.6, considered “dangerous” by the authorities, who claimed that chromaticism dangerous to the public!  The work, one of the most significant for wind quintet, encompasses splendid writing for the instruments, with the TAWQ's performance giving expression to its playfulness, cynicism, grief, contentment and its vibrant soundscape.


J.S.Bach, the great musical recycler, would surely have enjoyed hearing Mordechai Rechtman’s arrangement of Bach’s organ Trio Sonata BWV 529 in C major performed by Amotz, Erdman and Leshem. In fact, Bach’s unique collection of trio sonatas for organ BWV 525-530 is largely the reworking of some of his favourite works – now mostly lost. Highly challenging for the organist, playing the work on three wind instruments is also a test of the players’ dexterity, with Bach writing in the Italianate concerto style and challenging the instrumentalist with wide leaps and rapid arpeggios. The artists juxtaposed textures in the lively outer movements, maintaining articulacy and tension deriving from tempi that never allowed textures to become dense or inarticulate. In the serene, richly-harmonized Largo, they gave emphasis to poignant, well-crafted melodic shaping, with Amotz adding some Baroque-style ornamentation. As to the final Allegro, the artists’ playing of its vivid and intricate fugal textures kept the listener at the edge of his seat and definitely involved.


The concert concluded with Paul Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusik” (Little Chamber Music) for Wind Quintet, Op. 24, No. 2, one of a series of ensemble works. Of the finest wind pieces to come out of the 20th century, it is a five-movement “suite”. Presenting Hindemith’s characteristic writing, such as smooth disposition and use of dissonant counterpoint, to the present-day listener, it is a genial, humorous piece (with a touch of cynicism), but for audiences (and quintet players) in 1922, who had grown up listening to music in the Romantic style (not yet dead), Hindemith’s quintet was a major departure in almost every way. Following the lively and energetic first movement and the following languid yet appealing waltz - here Amotz switches to piccolo to add a further touch of wispiness - the third movement marked “Ruhig und einfach” (peaceful and simple) is much like an elegy, not surprising coming from a composer who had served on the front lines during the end of the World War. Blending its autumnal colours with gentle, appealing sentiments, the TAWQ players created a thought-provoking mood piece. Intense and frenetic, the fourth movement, only 23 bars long, was nevertheless another opportunity to hear some brilliant playing, with cadenzas for each instrument. As to the forthright Finale, sounding march-like at times, it gave the stage to different groups within the quintet.


For their encore, the artists played the Overture to Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” (a piece new to their repertoire) giving freshness and appeal to Bernstein’s profuse musical canvas and to the wit, élan, and sophistication associated with the operetta genre. Comprising five outstanding players, the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet never fails to please and entertain, offering dedicated performance of the highest level.

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