Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Music and wine in live streaming - the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet performs works from J.S.Bach to Nino Rota

Hagar Shahal,Yigal Kaminka,Itamar Leshem,Nadav Cohen,Danny Erdman (Courtesy TAWQ)
Happy hour took place at 14:00, a little earlier than usual, but any time of day is right for sipping a glass of wine while attending a live online concert. The initiative of  “Divas and Gentlemen”, a new organization set up by experienced young Israeli performers and producers to present online concerts during the coronavirus crisis, presented its pilot live streaming Wine Concert on May 22nd, 2020, offering people attending the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet’s concert the opportunity of listening to good music while enjoying imported wines from Premium Wine Ltd., and in the comfort of their own homes. In keeping with the project and its theme, the Keoss Recording Studio (Tel Aviv) was set up as a bar. Performers - Hagar Shahal-flute, Danny Erdman-clarinet, Yigal Kaminka-oboe, Itamar Leshem-French horn and Nadav Cohen-bassoon - offered a few words of explanation prior to each work. 


The concert opened with Mordechai Rechtman’s arrangement of Mozart’s Adagio for 2 clarinets and 3 basset horns in B flat major, K. 411. With Mozart by far the most notable composer writing for the basset horn, his inclusion of three of them in the Adagio would place it in the sound world of sonorous, velvety textures. This still emerged in the TAWQ’s performance of the small gem, as the members subtly played into the dissonances of Mozart’s lush harmonic language in a rich blending of timbres. So well suited to performance on three melodic instruments, J.S.Bach’s Trio sonata” in E minor BWV 528, transcribed by Rechtman from organ (two manuals and pedal), was performed by Hagar Shahal (flute), Danny Erdman (clarinet) and Nadav Cohen (bassoon). With much lively and expressive dialogue between flute and clarinet, the players were convincing in setting out the work’s trio construction, dynamic energy and elegance, its variety of moods and tonality changes. In the final movement, Un poco allegro, the bassoon joins the two “manuals” to engage in the imitative fugal process. 


Of Giachino Rossini’s six (major-key) string quartets, written in 1804, when the composer was twelve years of age, we heard Sonata No.4 in B flat major. Originally scored for two violins, ‘cello and double bass, it stands to reason that the wind setting, produced by a (forgotten) contemporary of the composer, should be for flute, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Listening to its fluency, interplay of instruments and moments of virtuosic writing, I was struck by the work’s wealth of catchy, bel canto-type melodies penned by the child who was to compose 39 entertaining operas as an adult. The players gave the work much Italian sparkle and joie-de-vivre, also, highlighting the pensive, expressive character of the Andante movement (profound writing for a 12-year-old). In later years, Rossini disparagingly referred to the string sonatas “‘six terrible sonatas that I wrote… in my earliest years... all composed and copied out in three days, and performed in a doggish manner and myself as 2nd violin – no less doggish than the others”. What a misjudgement! 


Providing interesting background information on Paul Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusik” (Small Chamber Music) Op.24, No.2, Yigal Kaminka spoke of Hindemith being affected by the Nazi Regime’s cultural policy (propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels denounced him as an “atonal noise maker”) and that the echoes of war are woven into the fabric of the work. The TAWQ’s playing of the five movements gave poignant expression to the work’s many layers - firstly, to Hindemith’s fine writing for winds, but also to its neo-Classical Stravinskian language in all its terse realism. The very opening of the first movement swiftly takes the listener into the pungent, cerebral sound world that pervades the work. The players also brought out its mix of wit and cynicism, as in the strange, joyless waltz (2nd movement). Reflective, haunting but also lyrical, the third movement was a vehicle for some fine, wistful solo- and duet-playing. Following the unique fourth movement, its 23-bar agenda of five tiny solos, punctuated by a feisty refrain of repetitive figures, the work bows out with a sophisticated, bracing literally off-beat dance. Whether one perceives the work as light and entertaining or as disturbing in its message (or perhaps both?), the TAWQ’s performance of it showed that music that is complex in its own terms can still be easily accessible to the ear.


Nino Rota is best known for his many film scores, but, time and time again, Rota demonstrated that he was a remarkable chameleon, capable of providing the full spectrum of musical forms, styles and instrumentation. Not to be ignored is his output of chamber- and orchestral music (including ballet music), choral music and opera. In recent years, his concert music has been emerging from obscurity. Rota’s “Piccola offerta musicale” (Small Musical Offering), paying homage to the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach, was written in the dark time of 1943.  Scored for wind quintet, the single-movement piece of some 3.5 minutes, swings between drawn-out, cantabile sections and a busy, devil-may-care musical joyride, to finally land on a major chord. The TAWQ’s articulacy, technical teamwork, finesse and richness of tone produced a congenial soupçon of pizzazz.  Rota once said, "I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music." 


Providing the audience with just enough time to empty another glass, the quintet took leave with a hearty arrangement of the Drinking Song from Verdi’s “La Traviata”:
“Let’s drink, let’s drink from the joyous chalices
that beauty so truly enhances.
And may the brief moment be inebriated
with voluptuousness.
Let’s drink for the ecstatic feeling
that love arouses...”


Friday, May 15, 2020

Father, Son and the Godfather - Ashley Solomon (UK) performs unaccompanied flute works at a house concert in London

Photo: Jonas Sacks
On April 28th and May 5th and 12th 2020, British flautist and early music specialist Ashley Solomon performed three solo recitals in the conservatory of his London home. Tuning in on ZOOM, viewers from far and wide heard the artist perform and offer brief explanations on what he described as “almost all the unaccompanied solo works written for the transverse Baroque flute"  (traverso).  Prof. Solomon called his three concerts “Father, Son and the Godfather''. They included works of J.S.Bach, C.P.E.Bach and G.P.Telemann; the latter was godfather to Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. 


In the first recital, we heard J.S.Bach’s Solo Partita in A minor BWV1013, referred to by Bach as “Solo pour la flûte traversière”;  Bach’s only known work for flute solo, it is, nevertheless, one of the undisputed gems of flute repertoire. When Bach was still working in Weimar, he met the French flautist Pierre Gabriel Buffardin on a visit to Dresden and it is very likely that he composed this partita as a result of hearing a true master of the transverse flute for the first time. Engaging in the different characters and  influences of its various dance styles, Solomon’s performance offered insight into the challenges Bach has set the flautist - rapid fingering changes, running 16th-notes, large leaps, minimal breath opportunities and its large range, from the instrument’s lowest  note to the sublime high ‘a” at the end of the Allemande.


The second program included C.P.E.Bach’s Solo Sonata in A minor Wq132. Interestingly, Johann Sebastian’s fifth child and second surviving son also chose the key of A minor for his only work for solo flute. With its three movements Poco Adagio, Allegro and Allegro, Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Sonata unequivocally belongs to the “empfindsam” style of the mid-18th century. It was composed in Berlin in 1747, the year the composer had taken a permanent position as chamber harpsichordist to King Friedrich II. The king was an accomplished flautist, his tutor no other than J.J.Quantz, but whether the work was actually written for- or played by Friedrich is not known. In keeping with Emanuel’s freedom of spirit, Solomon’s playing of the sonata invited the work’s agenda, with its improvisational, experimental, and dramatic characteristics, to suggest tempi, rubati and to engage in his palette of dynamics.


Despite his great love for the works of J.S.Bach, Ashley Solomon holds a special predilection for Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute TWV 40:2-13, enjoying the constant discovery their invention and musical originality invite. Solomon recorded them for Channel Classics in 2017.  Arranged by key, progressing more or less in order from A major to G minor, leaving out (most of the) keys that do not sit comfortably on the instrument, the Flute Fantasias were published (curiously, or rather, erroneously) as “Fantasie per il Violino senza Basso” (Fantasias for Solo Violin) in Hamburg (1732–33).  A compendium of styles and genres of the period, they are concise, sharply profiled, individually crafted, well suited to flute idiom and of great artistic and didactic value to "connoisseurs and amateurs". However, considering Telemann was, himself, a virtuoso flautist, it is no wonder that this collection offers the soloist the opportunity to display to the full his and the instrument's potential for virtuosity, range of colours and expressive abilities. What was special about Solomon’s three recitals was hearing all twelve Fantasias, how they contrasts with each other and each within itself and how the movements stack up in the listener’s memory. Solomon’s playing displayed the rich kaleidoscope of diverse styles fashionable in Germany at the time, presenting courtly dances and songful, highly melodious pieces alongside folk-influenced movements. Enlisting the traverso’s timbral range, Solomon’s playing was at times infused with profound, pensive searching, at others, with vivacity and joie de vivre, with certain pieces delighting the listener with playfulness and humour. Solomon’s is the art of subtly recreating layers within a so-called "single melodic line" and of performing the miniature musical form, fashioning each pocket-sized piece into a complete whole, as he engaged in economical ornamenting and the heightening of key notes with just a hint of vibrato.


The artist offered interesting explanations on the various Baroque flutes he played. An extra treat was hearing pieces of Van Eyck and J.S.Bach performed on the recorder. Although attended by people in many locations, the intimacy of the artist’s private home made for a fitting venue for hearing musical repertoire of such a personal nature.


Combining a successful career across both theory and practice, Ashley Solomon is chair and head of Historical Performance at London's Royal College of Music, also holding masterclasses and lectures worldwide. As director of Florilegium, much of Solomon’s time is spent working and performing with the ensemble he co-founded in 1991. In 2002, Florilegium became involved with Bolivian Baroque and, since 2003, Prof. Solomon has been training vocalists and instrumentalists there, in 2008 becoming the first European to receive the prestigious Bolivian Hans Roth Prize.