Four Bs and One M
The Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival's sixth concert featured an immense diversity of works - four Bs, ranging from Bach to Bartok, via Beethoven and Busoni, with Mahler for variety's sake.
The program opened, like all this festival's concerts, with a movement from Bach's "Art of the Fugue." Slicing this monumental work up between 13 concerts is an original idea, no doubt, but is probably not what Bach intended. One can say with certainty, however, that he didn't intend the anachronistic use of a double-bass (Nabil Shehata) with Michael Barenboim's violin. The instruments' balance was out of focus - the violin sounded pale and the double-bass overshadowed others.
The program's highlight was Beethoven's "Archduke Trio" performed by Jonathan Biss, Miriam Fried and Tsvi Plesser. The combination of a master musician, such as Fried, with talented representatives of the younger generation, proved to be an enormously successful recipe. It resulted in a vibrant, clearly shaped and sharply accentuated rendition.
The trio was preceded by Bartok's "Sonata Nr. 2," performed by Fried and Biss in an excellent and thoroughly communicative piece.
Roman Trekel, in Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer," was a welcome newcomer among the familiar faces of the previous festivals. His appealing baritone sounded most sonorous in the lower register. He conveyed the songs' emotional complexity with profound sensitivity. The accompanying ensemble, conducted by clarinetist Karl-Heinz Steffens, occasionally overpowered Trekel's voice.
Chamber Music Weekend
A world premiere commissioned for the festival was Avner Dorman's "Jerusalem Mix" for piano and winds quintet. The work featured some obvious ingredients characteristic of Jerusalem, such as would-be klezmer music to represent Judaism, Armenian motifs to represent Christianity and the oboe to portray the Islamic muezzin call to prayer. The hitting of open piano strings was meant emulate the kanoun or santour. This concoction of diverse, Jerusalem-related elements was manipulated in fairly good taste, relying on the association of ideas and avoiding blunt imitations. The piece's most redeeming feature was that the young hopeful composer seemed not to take the work, or himself, too seriously.
Another world premiere was "Sepulchral City" for clarinet, cello and piano (Karl-Heinz Steffens, Johannes Moser, Elena Bashkirova) by Christian Jost, a German composer. The work skillfully manipulated the instruments' contrasting sonorities. It is an effect-studded piece, though not always very innovative: plucked strings of the open piano, clusters banged on the keys, note repetitions, and clarinet glissandos. What remained unclear, for the uninitiated, was the connection between the title and the music.
Schubert's "Octet," presumably intended to be the Thursday concert's crowning glory, was a pretentious undertaking. Eight serious musicians - too serious, occasionally - are not enough for this inspired work if none are capable of assuming leadership and injecting esprit de corps. Knowing how to count to four is not sufficient if one is blissfully unaware of what is going on between the four beats. It was pedestrian playing - a model of how not to perform Schubert.
Of Brahms' two clarinet sonatas, Nr. 2 was performed for viola. Although the composer's original version was for clarinet, the viola version sounded surprisingly more refined and subtle, at least in Fellix Schwartz's delicate rendition. Yael Kareth's piano part sounded impassioned and highly impressive. She deserves to be assigned a role in her own right, not just designated a substitute for the cancellation of an indisposed celebrity.
The main interest in Saturday's concert was Debussy's three last sonatas for cello and piano (Frans Helmerson and David Kadouch), flute, viola and harp (Guy Eshed, Nobuko Imai, Sivan Magen), and violin and piano (Latica Honda-Rosenberg and Yael Kareth). It takes the excuse of a festival to perform these three diverse works all at once.
A lively, inspired rendition of Tchaikovsky's "String Sextet Souvenir de Florence" brought the chamber-musical weekend to its listener-friendly close.
From One Singer to 23 Instruments
The featured soloist of Sunday's concert was Robert Holl. His resounding, dark-timbered bass-baritone could make him an excellent opera singer, complete with stage mannerisms and convulsive body language. However, all his theatrical characteristics make him an unsuitable choice for a Lied. Hollering most of the time without any subtle nuances of volume does not convey the introverted meditativeness and sensitive spirituality of Brahms' "Four Serious Songs." Brahms' moving "O Death, how bitter art thou" sounded like a demonstrative declaration, not the despairing sigh of a tortured soul.
Pianist Elena Bashkirova faithfully followed the composer's intentions. She competently performed Brahms' "Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Cello" along with Karl-Heinz Steffens and Frans Helmerson. Helmerson's cello, in particular, reached levels of profundity over which Steffen's clarinet hovered in a more casual manner.
The program's consolation prize was Richard Strauss' "Metamorphoses" in its version for 23 strings, conducted by Steffens. The work's initial immense turbulence subsides toward the end to a resigned calm - the final metamorphosis in the composer's eventful and controversial life.