CONCERT REVIEW: Chamber Music Festival at YMC Jerusalem

Brahms is always welcome, of course, But four of his major works in a four-day festival appear as slightly overdone.

A piano (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
A piano
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Unlike many other music events, The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, directed by pianist Elena Bashkirova, attempts to make conservative audiences acquainted with – and hopefully appreciate – unfamiliar, mostly contemporary works, by sandwiching them in between familiar attractions so they become a captive audience of the unfamiliar ones.
In the opening concert, the familiar piece was Schubert’s Rondo for Four-Hand Piano.
This was actually not chamber music but home music, played by amateur pianists in their salon, and not quite suitable for a large symphony concert hall.
The unfamiliar work was the Israeli premiere of 20th-century composer Mieczislaw Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for cello, in violinist Gidon Kremer’s arrangement for violin. Why the work should have been performed in an arrangement remains an open question.
Kremer’s performance was a theatrical one man- show, complete with video screenings, photos and lighting effects. His playing was extraordinary, with the minutest nuances of dynamics and almost inaudible pianissimo tone colors. Many repetitive passages were fatiguing, though.
Brahms is always welcome, of course, But four of his major works in a four-day festival appear as slightly overdone, especially as there are also other Classical-Romantic composers that deserve to be heard. Nevertheless, his Piano Quartet #3 was superbly performed by Anton Ba rachovsky, Krzystof Chorzelsky, Kyril Zlotnikov and Plamena Mangorova, with dramatic as well lyrical intensity and brilliant virtuosity.
A pleasant discovery was Dorothea Roshmann in songs by Brahms and Mahler. With her crystalline soprano, she performed with dramatic force as well as delicate lyricism.
She mastered the gentle art of landing softly on a high note and letting it swell gradually to increase the impact. The piano part was provided by the director, Elena Bashkirova.
Another appealing surprise was Gyula Orendt, whose warm baritone performed Schumann’s Liederkreis (Song cycle), with sensitive attention to the lyrics.
Attached to the unforgettable Brahms, the almost entirely forgotten Nazi escapee Erich Korngold was revived in the festival’s second concert. Although a 20th-century composer, his music is listener-friendly and sounds almost unabashedly Romantic and entertainment music-like. After his festival revival, mainly as an outdated curiosity, he presumably is doomed to become forgotten again.
Without pomp and circumstances yet with energetic enthusiasm, Elgar’s Piano Quintet Op. 84 was performed tempestuously by Kolya Blacher, Kathrin Rabus, Ori Kam, Kim Park and Plamena Mangorova.
The Festival’s closing concert opened with an unadvertised piece by the recently deceased Noam Sheriff, in commemoration of his passing. The program then, not unexpectedly, moved on to the traditional last piece of every chamber music festival – Mendelsson’s String Octet, surprisingly well rehearsed by eight musicians who had taken part in the festival.
If in next year’s festival, the programs and intermission will be somewhat shortened, the fatiguing effect of too lengthy a concert will be eliminated.