Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Silver-Garburg Piano Duo sees in 2022 with a performance of works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Schubert and Brahms at the Israel Conservatory, Tel Aviv

Gil Garburg, Sivan Silver (courtesy Silver-Garburg Duo)


2022 started "on the right foot" with a recital of the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo at the Israel Conservatory (Tel Aviv) on January 1st. The concert, of the Piano Recital Series, comprised works of Rimsky-Korsakov, Schubert and Brahms. Israeli artists Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg today reside in Berlin.


Guiding performers as to the subject matter of "Scheherazade", Symphonic Suite, Opus 35 (1888), a work inspired by a collection of Middle Eastern and Indian tales, known as "The Thousand and One Nights" (or "The Arabian Nights"), Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov prefaced his score with the following: "The Sultan Shahriar, convinced of the duplicity and infidelity of all women, vows to slay each of his wives after the wedding night. The Sultana Scheherazade, however, saves her own life by the expedient of telling the Sultan a succession of tales over a period of one thousand and one nights. Overcome by curiosity, the monarch postpones his wife's execution from day to day, then altogether renouncing his sanguinary resolution." However, while programmatic elements are undoubtedly present in "Scheherazade" and important to the shaping of the work, the music was not intended as an exact portrayal of any particular tale or any part of the collection. Indeed, the composer wanted the listener to "carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders"... Scored for strings, harp, several woodwinds, brass and a variety of percussion instruments, the music of "Scheherazade" showcases Rimsky-Korsakov’s mastery as an orchestrator; in terms of the pure, sensory pleasure of sound and of the rich array of instrumental solos, he is unsurpassed. Performing the four-hand piano setting of the work presents a challenge to both players and listeners. Introducing this "story about a storyteller", Silver and Garburg present the two main characters with their own specific themes - the Sultan, his arrival announced by a bold, brash theme, to be answered by that of the mesmerising Scheherazade, the characters at the centre of these tales of love, intrigue and adventure. In playing that is finely chiselled, wonderfully clean, carefully paced, descriptive and imaginative, the artists take the audience east on an exhilarating journey into a fairy-tale world. Under their fingers, the action-packed work of four tableaus emerges richly textured, dramatic and evocative, but also intimate, only drawing to a close when Scheherazade’s stories finally come to a quiet and plaintive end. Listening to the third movement - "The Young Prince and the Young Princess" - the artists' tender and poignant playing of some of the loveliest and most sensual music of the entire work - leaves the listener in no doubt that this is indeed a love story. Altogether, the duo's playing of the work emerges with wonderful clarity, also owing to very careful and subtle use of the sustaining pedal. 


Franz Schubert's Divertissement for Piano 4 hands, D 823 "sur motifs originaux français" (1826-1827) is not frequently heard in today's concert halls for a number of reasons, one being that the composer's corpus of over forty works for four hands is largely unknown. (An inexplicable fact, as Schubert's genial, sociable "Viennese" disposition was ideally suited to the piano duet, to which genre he has contributed music of awe-inspiring originality, passion and virtuosity.) Another reason may be the Divertissement's extreme demands on the performers. If the work displays any French element at all, it could be the dotted rhythms of the stately main theme of the opening sonata-form movement, possibly a reference to the French Baroque Overture. Following Silver and Garburg's vivid handling of this movement, of its alluring and lyrical aspects and the timbral contrasts created by forays into the different piano registers, their playing of the exquisite Andantino varié, its bitter-sweet, delicate B minor melody burgeoning into four variations, was unrushed, pensive and sensitive, never over-sentimental. Forthright and dancelike, the finale, a sparkling Rondeau Brilliant, moving along at a galloping pace, emerged richly textured but never thick or muscular. Could this late Schubert Divertissement, a work stretching the piano duet medium and its practitioners to the limits in technique, subtle musicianship and endurance, be referred to as a Konzertstück? Not by Schubert. It would have been played within the private homes of his Viennese friends or with the composer seated next to his pupil, the young Countess Caroline Esterházy (with whom he was head-over-heels in love) at her family's summer residence.  


Remaining in the Viennese domestic drawing room, the duo-pianists concluded their Tel Aviv recital with a selection of Johannes Brahms' Waltzes for Piano Four Hands Op.39 (1865). First performed by Clara Schumann and Albert Dietrich at a party given by the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg in November 1866, these miniatures, each different in hue, each of a different mood, show a more intimate side of Brahms. In fact, they constitute some of the most delicate, subtly-fashioned jewels of 19th century dance literature. From the majestic opening statement of No.1 in B major, to the tender, wistful appeal of the G-sharp minor Waltz, to the flamboyant Romantic pianism of the E minor, the artists take the audience into the playful, giocoso asymmetry of the Vivace (C-sharp minor). No.11 in B minor, casting a furtive glance towards Eastern European dance styles and graced by small hesitations, gives way to the energetic, full canvas of the G-sharp minor Waltz, its sprinkling of irregular, accents teasing the ear ever so gently, with Silver and Garburg concluding the recital with the caressing Waltz in A-flat major. 


For an encore, Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg performed Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's zesty "Malagueña".


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