Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Between Mozart and Pushkin - the Carmel Quartet hosts the Malenki Theatre (Tel Aviv) and Italian pianist Pietro Bonfilio

Photo: Yoel Levy

The Carmel Quartet (music director: Dr. Yoel Greenberg) opened the 2019-2020 Strings & More series on quite a different note. Directed by Michael Teplitsky, the audience was presented with Alexander Pushkin’s “little tragedy” “Mozart & Salieri” (translation: Roy Chen), with Rodie Kozlovsky playing Salieri and Dudu Niv, Mozart. The character of the blind violinist was missing from this performance, but, instead, each of the two acts was peppered with short works meticulously performed by Carmel Quartet members Rachel Ringelstein - violin/viola, Tali Goldberg - violin, Tami Waterman - ‘cello and visiting pianist Pietro Bonfilio (b.1990, Italy). This writer attended the event at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, on November 6th 2019. In this, the English-language concert; the two Israeli actors played in Hebrew, but concert-goers were able to follow the text in an English translation projected onto a screen.


It was in 1830, in the wake of Tsar Nicholas I’s execution of the Decembrists, with Pushkin  seeing Russia as a lone pestilential tree to which “no bird flies towards, no tiger goes near”, that the great Russian poet, playwright and novelist wrote “Mozart and Salieri”. Pushkin’s verse-play presents a small but effective portrayal of genius and of envy.  Salieri is a man completely devoted to music, hailed as a brilliant musician and composer, happy with his music and his life until Mozart appears on the scene. Enter Mozart, who has been composing his "Requiem". On stage we meet Salieri, who is too grave for his own good, totally self-abnegating to his art, and Mozart, the family man and jolly prankster who is in love with life.  Salieri decides to poison Mozart. A mere two scenes - ten pages of text - separate Salieri’s declaration of envy from Mozart’s despatch. Compact as it is, the play is astonishingly rich in dramatic potential; Kozlovsky and Niv, convincing in their portrayals of each character, are quick to draw the audience into the work’s content, substantiating it vividly. Among the musical works threaded through Act 1 were the Larghetto from Salieri’s Concerto in C major, with Bonfilio’s playing of the solo role exquisitely fragile and beautifully ornamented and joined by delicate string comments and occasional tutti; we heard Rachel Ringelstein in sympathetic singing of  “Voi Che Sapete” (Mozart - “Marriage of Figaro”); Bonfilio and Ringelstein gave a filigree-fine performance of the Tempo di Minuetto from Mozart’s Sonata for piano and violin in E minor K.304, to be followed by the Andante from the String Trio in E flat major. The latter premiered in Dresden in 1789, with Mozart playing the viola part; it is the composer’s only completed string trio. The Carmel Quartet’s string players’ presentation of the themes and each intricate variation emerged articulate, inspired and personal, their delivery ranging from the wistful to the dramatic.


Act 2: Vienna, 1791. The scene is set with the buoyant, folksy but light-of-foot sounds of Beethoven’s Ländler No.1 WoO15, performed by the strings.  Mozart, worried about his Requiem, tells Salieri how haunted he is by the figure of the mysterious stranger in black who had requested the Requiem. Salieri hands him the pewter wine cup that contains wine mixed with poison. Mozart drinks to them both. We then hear Bonfilio in a haunting, reflective and subtly dramatic performance of Liszt’s arrangement of the Lacrimosa from the Mozart Requiem, a befitting choice of repertoire: Mozart was Liszt’s illustrious role model, both were pioneers of progress, both enduring pain, both suffering in order to accomplish their goals. The murder is followed by Salieri’s premise that, through his act of murder and vilifying himself, villainy and genius cannot exist together. In Pushkin’s play it is in fact Salieri who is the main character, taking his revenge on God by extinguishing his chosen voice - Mozart’s beautiful music. The performance concluded with all four musicians in a poetic, introspective rendition of Mozart’s final piece - "Ave verum Corpus".


Following the intermission, Bonfilio and the string players performed Mozart’s Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor K.478. As evident in his Symphonies No.25 and 40, G minor is a key that Mozart reserved for his more intense musical ideas. In the opening Allegro, with Mozart’s forthright utterances juxtaposed with more lyrical material, Bonfilio displayed sparkling clarity and agile fingerwork, his playing faithful to the Classical concept. Partnered with the string players’ warm, stirring sound, his playing was, at times, a little too reserved. Tali Goldberg led securely, offering a touch of rubato to flex the incessantly flowing sixteenth notes of the Andante movement. In the playful G major Rondo, Bonfilio presented the subject in springy, non-legato textures, light and of good cheer; there was much lively conversation between strings and piano. Mozart adds variety to this final movement by visiting minor keys in a few places, but the music does not dwell on them for long, as the artists negotiated the movement with delightful playing free of the Sturm und Drang gestures that dominated the first movement.


Beautifully presented, this was a unique and exhilarating event to see in the new season!

Pietro Bonfilio (Courtesy P.Bonfilio)

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