Monday, February 17, 2020

The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet hosts pianist Alon Goldstein and oboist Dudu Carmel at a concert of works of Beethoven and 20th century composers

Alon Goldstein (photo courtesy AICF)
Under the auspices of the Felicja Blumental Music Center, the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet’s recent concert commemorated 250 years of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. Hosting pianist Alon Goldstein (Israel-USA), the event, in memory of Annette Celine, took place in the Zucker Hall of Heichal Hatarbut, Tel Aviv, on February 22nd, 2020. TAWQ members performing were Roy Amotz-flute, Danny Erdman-clarinet, Itamar Leshem-horn and Nadav Cohen-bassoon. Due to illness of the quintet’s oboist Yigal Kaminka, Dudu Carmel, principal oboist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and a founding member of the Israel Woodwind Quintet, stepped in to fill in for Kaminka, offering outstanding performance throughout the evening. The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet was established in 2009. The ensemble performs a wide repertoire, including several works of Israeli composers and will record its third disc in September 2020 in Chicago.


The event opened with Beethoven’s Quintet for piano and winds Op.16 in E-flat major, written when the composer was 26 years of age. With Beethoven having become all the rage among the gentry for his dazzling displays of improvisational skill and keyboard virtuosity, the work, premiered in 1797, catered to the taste of the Viennese aristocratic audience, to be played at soirées in their elegant city palaces. Although the work shows the strong influence of Mozart and Haydn, its writing is still very much a product of its creator and time. Early on in the work, the piano announces its intention to be primus inter pares, but there are plenty of opportunities to hear personal expression from individual wind instruments. The TAWQ's performance placed strong emphasis on both the piece's hearty melodiousness and its poignancy, excelling in judicious shaping of phrases and subtle sonorities. Endorsed by his signature fragility of touch, Goldstein wove the virtuosity of the piano part, with its ornamentation and transitions, through the texture’s elegant fabric, with the Op.16 Quintet’s writing still a product of the joyful, optimistic composer, whose youthful buoyancy would, within a half-dozen years, change with his growing deafness and the unprecedented deepening of his art. 


Introducing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata (“Moonlight”) in C sharp minor, Op.27, no.2 (Sonata quasi una Fantasia), Alon Goldstein referred to the composer’s new approach to matters of form and structure in the piano sonata and to the choice of the somewhat “otherworldly” key of C-sharp minor. He reminded the audience that the “Moonlight” subtitle was neither given by- nor known to Beethoven and that the composer had specified that the opening movement should be played throughout “with the greatest delicacy and without dampers” (i.e. with the sustaining pedal held down!)  Of course, the action of Beethoven’s piano was different to that of the modern concert grand. In playing a far cry from the too-frequently-heard sugar-coated concept of this piece, Goldstein’s rendition took the listener into the mysterious soundscape of the opening Adagio movement, his playing of the gently-arpeggiated texture agile and sotto voce, its soprano utterances emerging crystal clear despite his liberal use of the sustaining pedal. In the ensuing unrushed Allegretto, there remained some of the pensive aura of the first movement, swiftly to disappear into thin air with the final Presto agitato’s urgency and virtuosity, as the pianist gave focus to moments of melodiousness, also to intimacy of expression, the movement's outbursts never sounding aggressive or rough-edged.


A work well-suited to the Tel Aviv Wind Quartet’s members is Luciano Berio’s “Opus Number Zoo”, a musical theatre piece written in 1951 for wind quintet and narrator, the 1971 revised version allocating recital of Rhoda Levine’s four poems to the players. Described by Berio as an “occasional piece written for young people”, the texts are quasi-Aesopian animal tales, their underlying dark message, however, echoing the horrors of human violence, the desire to possess what belongs to others and referring to those who  “blast all that is lively, proud and gentle” clear to adults. With stage direction by Ari Teperberg, and using Elisha Shefi (and the players’) effective Hebrew translation, the artists’ presentation was polished and confrontational, but also entertaining with touches of whimsy, nevertheless justifying the work’s subtitle of “Children’s Play”. Theatre it was, indeed, but not to be ignored was the instrumentalists’ adept treatment of Berio’s succinct and vibrant Neo-Classical writing, its bold rhythms, pungent harmonies and deft counterpoint, as they manipulated the music and poetry by means of the dramatized voice and physical movements.


Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide”, based on the 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire, was first performed in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman; in Bernstein’s brilliant score, European dance forms like the gavotte, waltz and polka intertwine seamlessly with bel canto arias, Gilbert and Sullivan-style comedy, grand opera and Bernstein's own "Jewish tango”. Following the Overture's first concert performance by the New York Philharmonic under the composer's baton in 1957, its content mirroring the wit, passion and sophistication of the operetta, it was quick to earn a place in the orchestra repertoire. Don Stewart made a transcription of it for wind quintet. With Roy Amotz alternating between flute and piccolo, the TAWQ members gave fresh and vibrant expression to the piece’s jazzy, bustling collage of motifs and jocularity as well as to the lyricism of vocal melodies quoted from the operetta. The “Candide” Overture remains a splendid concert piece.


First performed on March 20, 1956, American composer Samuel Barber composed “Summer Music” with the players of the New York Wind Quintet in mind and utilizing their “favourite effects”. The germ of the work, both in its melodic and rhythmic  essence, is to be found in the first bars, as they then give rise to a rhapsodic, quiet, contemplative, pastoral mood; Barber displays masterful handling of each instrumental voice, exploiting the unique timbres and colouristic possibilities of the individual instruments, resulting in writing that is most demanding in terms of sonority and virtuosity. At the Tel Aviv concert, the work’s solos came over most effectively, with the lion’s share going to nostalgic, beautifully crafted oboe melodies (Dudu Carmel); and how connotative the horn (Itamar Leshem) and bassoon (Nadav Cohen) are when describing the languid listlessness of summer! Taking on board Barber’s shifts between lyrical, dramatic and motoric passages, the TAWQ players produced a finely compatible, evocative canvas infused with Barber’s individual and unmistakable deep feeling fort Neo-Romantic poeticism, yet inviting the listener probe his own associations, experience, and mood. It was Barber himself who, with a touch of irony, referred to the work as “supposed to be evocative of summer – summer meaning languid, not killing mosquitoes.”


Despite contact with Francis Poulenc and the “Groupe des Six” and his liking for French Impressionism and the Stravinsky’s Neoclassicism, French composer Jean Françaix never felt committed to any particular musical ideology, claiming that the only goal of his composing was to "give pleasure". He chose to write in a style that was tonal, melodically elegant and rhythmically incisive.  His instrumental music includes chamber music and concerti, showing keen interest in writing for wind instruments. He was also successful as a concert pianist and toured extensively throughout Europe and the United States. Scored for wind quintet and piano, “L'heure du berger” (“Shepherd’s Hour”, roughly translated as “Happy Hour”) and subtitled “Musique de Brasserie”, was composed as background music for a noted Parisian restaurant, with each of the small movements depicting clientele in a restaurant scene. The TAWQ players brought each tableau to life: “Les Vieux Beaux” (“The Old Dandies”) is jolly in its piano part but the winds add a dimension of nostalgia. With the piano silent and the clarinet soloing in “Pin-Up Girls”, Danny Erdman’s playing was polished, whimsical and suitably teasing, the other winds making their own bumptious statement, with the movement ending on a droll flourish. As to the final movement, also concluding an evening of fine performance and variety, the players gave precise expression to its good-natured energy and dash, to its web of melodic lines propelling against each other in offbeat, dazzling movement and to its suggestions of such dances as the Charleston. 


Alon Goldstein (b.Israel, 1970) is considered one of the most original and sensitive pianists of his generation; he is admired for his musical intelligence, dynamic personality, artistic vision and innovative programming. He performs worldwide as a soloist and in chamber music, records and has premiered several works.  Mr. Goldstein graduated from the Peabody Conservatory, where he studied with Leon Fleisher, then serving as his assistant..

Roy Amotz,Dudu Carmel,Itamar Leshem,Nadav Cohen,Danny Erdman(Yoel Levy)

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