Variations on a theme

The NKO performs a series featuring Schubert lieder.

Klaus Mertens (photo credit: PR)
Klaus Mertens
(photo credit: PR)
 Beginning next Thursday, the Netanya Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra will highlight world-renowned bass baritone Klaus Mertens in a series of performances throughout the country featuring Schubert lieder. The lieder were originally written for voice and piano.
They will be performed by Mertens and the NKO, as they were later arranged for voice and orchestra by composer Max Reger.
The concerts will open with the suite from Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus. The suite showcases the music composed by Beethoven for Prometheus, his only large-scale, dramatic ballet.
“Beethoven’s Prometheus Suite is one of my favorite pieces,” enthuses Shalev Ad-El, the conductor and artistic director of the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra. “The suite is a beautiful collection of ballet pieces that show Beethoven’s mastery of different styles, as well as being the portent of the composer’s future works.”
According to musicologist Lewis Lockwood, Beethoven later based the fourth movement of his Eroica symphony and his Eroica Variations (piano) on the main theme of the last movement of the ballet.
The suite also serves as a smooth transition to the first piece that Mertens will sing – Schubert’s Prometheus, D.674. This is an intensely dramatic art song set to the words of a poem of the same name by Goethe.
“In my estimation, Klaus Mertens is one of the great performers of German lieder and the repertoire of Schubert,” points out Ad-El. “For over 20 years, Klaus and I have collaborated and performed several recitals together [piano and voice].
Frequently, we have concertized together with some of my own groups – Academia Daniel and the Halle Philharmonic Orchestra.”
Ad-El says he chose to include a Schubert lieder concert as part of the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s series because it is a showcase of Schubert’s beautiful music, which was superbly arranged by composer Max Reger (1873-1916).
“I enjoy presenting music in various combinations. It continues my line and passion, which is to present the public with music of well-known composers whose music has been arranged and orchestrated by other excellent composers, giving these fine works the light and depth of the orchestra,” he says.
“The lieder were originally written by Schubert for voice and piano. It was Reger who – beautifully I might add – orchestrated the piano part,” concludes Ad-El.
In his view, the orchestrated version provides the listener with a different medium and perspective to enjoy the music of this composer.
The program will include other examples of Schubert’s composition and Reger’s arrangement artistry, as Mertens and the NKO perform additional Schubert lieder and the monumental ballad “Der Erlking.”
“Der Erlking,” or “The Elf-King,” is based on a poem by Goethe and provides the listener with minutes marked by high tension and drama.
The ballad tells the story of a father holding his son in his arms as he gallops through the forest with the evil spirit of the Erlking in close pursuit.
The singer has to present the four personalities involved in the story – the narrator, the father, the child and the Erlking – each with his own characteristic way of singing. Written by Schubert when he was only 18, it is considered one of the greatest ballads ever written.
The friendship between Mersten and Ad-El has lasted a long time. They have been collaborating since 1995, collecting unedited and unperformed cantatas by German composers (such as Fasch, Telemann and Graupner) and editing them. Then, they performed and recorded them. Their combined efforts have resulted in more than 10 CDs (recorded for HR, CPO and Accent). For this project, Mertens won the Telemann Prize in 2016 and Ad-El the Fasch Prize in 2008.
Ad-El is certain that the fruits of this close collaboration will be evidenced and will be part of the excitement for audiences in Israel.
“Klaus Mertens has performed in Israel in the past as a soloist with various orchestras,” he says, “but this will be his debut with our orchestra. We are looking forward it.”
The concerts take place April 14 to 21 For tickets and concert schedules, go to or call *5331.