Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Works of Schubert and Brahms at the Eden-Tamir Music Center for the concert marking two years of pianist Alexander Tamir's passing


A sizable audience filled the hall of the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on August 14th 2021 to attend the concert marking two years of Prof. Alexander Tamir's passing. The artists performing were pianists Shir Semmel, Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman. 


Alexander Wolkovsky was born in 1931 in Vilnius, Lithuania, changing his name to Tamir after settling in Jerusalem in 1945. He and Bracha Eden formed their piano duo in 1952, both spending their professional lives teaching, performing worldwide as a duo and recording. The Eden-Tamir Duo lasted for over 59 years until Prof. Eden's death in 2006. In 1968, Eden and Tamir established the Max Targ Chamber Music Center in Ein Kerem (later to be renamed the Eden-Tamir Music Center). Following Prof. Tamir's death, Dr. Dror Semmel has taken over direction of the music centre.  


Introducing the event, Dror Semmel spoke of how Alexander Tamir and Bracha Eden had created the atmosphere of the centre, making it a home for so much music-making and so many musicians, the latter including budding young artists. The two works on the program were chosen for the fact that they had been performed widely by the Eden-Tamir Duo. The Jerusalem Duo - siblings Shir and Dror Semmel - opened with Schubert's Sonata for piano 4 hands in C major, D.812, "Grand Duo''.  Franz Schubert wrote over forty works for piano four hands throughout his short life, these intended for domestic music-making, but many written for his pupils, the daughters of Count Esterházy, whom he taught during summer months at the count’s country estate. Included in those is the Grand Duo, an ambitious, large-scale and challenging work of symphonic dimensions, indeed, Schubert’s most expansive piano work A question raised time and again is whether the Grand Duo was the ground plan for a symphony Schubert had in mind. For all the intimacy present in this species of parlour music, there is no denying that Schubert’s piano duets frequently sound orchestral, this work certainly being no exception. Dror Semmel spoke of a letter found recently, in 1970, in which Schubert had expressed that this piano work was not the sketch for an orchestral work. Set in C major, a key in which Schubert had written some of his most daring works, the Grand Duo, more epic than experimental, is a massive undertaking for any piano duo. Largely unfamiliar to many Schubert buffs, its mammoth proportions also present a challenge to the listener. Shir and Dror Semmel shared a vision for how the piece should be played, impressively capturing the beauty of Schubert's seductive melodies and rich textures together with the roller-coaster feel of the work's ever-changing moods, its aesthetic being one of discontinuities. Indeed, a tour de force, the artists nevertheless created the intimacy of the salon music experience. 


In order to promote the circulation of his works outside the concert hall, Johannes Brahms made piano arrangements of several orchestral works, including all four symphonies. In fact, his creative ideas in these piano versions have created renewed interest in the music world over the past decades. Dror Semmel explained that Brahms had written the orchestral- and the two-piano settings of Symphony No.3 in F major Op.90 at the same time. In fact, on November 22nd 1883, ten days before Hans Richter was to conduct the premiere of the work in Vienna, Brahms organised a musical evening in the elegant Ehrbar Salon, where he and Austrian pianist Ignaz Brüll presented the new symphony in his arrangement for two pianos to a distinguished group of invited guests. Reminding the audience that the two-piano version is based note-for-note on the symphonic version, Semmel suggested the audience should relate to the piano version as a "different work", putting aside association with its orchestral colours.(flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, contrabassoon, horns,  trumpets,  trombones, timpani, and strings) when listening to it. Throughout the tightly-knit work's expressive scheme, one constantly juxtaposing major and minor, sometimes forcefully, but most often in delicate ways, Ron Trachtman and Dror Semmel integrated the grand tutti with cantabile-, even mysterious moments, as in the highly dramatic opening movement. The two middle movements are lighter and more delicate in character. (the Andante movement, however, punctuated by chords sounding vaguely ominous) as Brahms draws all of the thematic materials of the last movement together in a hushed apotheosis, finally settling the original question of minor or major in favour of the latter. Trachtman and Semmel showed the audience through the symphony's complex course with a finely crafted, articulate, polished and involved performance of the work German music critic Eduard Hanslick had referred to as Brahms’ “artistically most nearly perfect symphony".


Pleasing in its programming and realization, the concert was a moving tribute to Prof. Alexander Tamir and to his lifelong contribution to the Israeli musical scene.

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