Walking through the gates of the Eden-Tamir Music Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on a sunny Autumn morning means leaving the harsh realities of today’s world behind for a couple of hours. The lush, exotic gardens on either side of the steps that lead up to the concert hall beckon one to take a few minutes to ponder this densely-planted natural haven. The concert on November 14th 2015 was performed by the Israel Haydn Quartet – Eyal Kless- 1st violin, Svetlana Simannovsky-2nd violin, Tali Kravitz-viola, Shira Mani-‘cello - to be joined by clarinetist Eli Eban. Established in 2010, the Israel Haydn Quartet is making its mark, performing throughout Israel and recently in Seoul, South Korea. It plays the gamut of string quartet repertoire, but, as its name infers, it is no coincidence that the quartet takes a great interest in the music of Joseph Haydn, “father” of the Classical string quartet genre. In 2014, the quartet received a grant from the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport to record a CD consisting of three Haydn quartets. All four members enjoy international performing- and teaching careers.
The program opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in D-minor No.2 Op.76. Of the some 68 Haydn quartets Opus 76, the last complete set, written between 1796 and 1797 when the composer was 65, constitutes the apex of his career, with No.2 referred to as the “Quinten” (Fifths) Quartet, due to its opening motif of descending fifths. The Israel Haydn Quartet’s reading of the work was exhaustive, highlighting its closely woven thematic and structural concentration of the opening movement in playing that was vibrant, incisive and direct. Following the Andante (2nd movement), its major theme in a lighter, more smiling frame of mind, its appealing, ornamented songlike melody stated by Kless, the quartet members launched into forthright playing of the intense, stark canon of the “Witches’ Minuet” its less confrontational rustic middle section an interesting contrast. Then, with Haydn’s virtuosic first violin part sensitively dealt with by Kless, the quartet produced the full, dynamic canvas of the last movement, its intensive, well-spiced agenda with a touch of gypsy flavoring finally turning to the major key, to sweep away the work’s minor character and conclude with a sense of well-being.
We then heard “Summer Strings” – String Quartet no.1 (1962) by Israeli composer Tzvi Avni (b. Germany, 1927), a set of four small movements bearing non-musical, evocative and challenging titles : Destination, Argument, Variations without a Theme, Interweaving. Utilizing many techniques of string repertoire, Avni’s propelling, changing rhythm patterns, his modal ideas, his energetic style of writing and adept mixing of the influence of east and west make for a work rich in content and temperament, yet so compact, keeping the listener at the edge of his seat in involved, active listening. Highlighting the work’s many moods and imaginative sound combinations, from the relentless running figures of the first movement, through the changing agendas of “Argument”, the thought-provoking, somewhat disturbing timbres of the “Variations” that appear to be looking for a theme, to the robust questioning of “Interweaving”, the Israel Haydn Quartet’s performance of “Summer Strings” was refreshingly raw, intelligent and as articulate as Tzvi Avni’s writing itself.
intensity, its seriousness and fragility. Opening the 2nd movement (Adagio), with its major-minor split personality, Eban’s haunting and superbly controlled cantabile playing created the effect of gentle calling, with the middle section spiraling to an imposing, gypsy-flavored texture. Following the set of variations of the final movement, played expressively, offering each of the instruments personal utterance, the listener is taken unawares when the musical course suddenly reverts to that of the first movement, to end enigmatically almost exactly as does the first movement. The five artists’ performance of the work was profound, their detailed reading of it rich in finely chiseled phrasing, their energy and rhapsodic gestures never far from the quintet’s underlying sadness. Led assuredly by Eyal Kless, the Israel Haydn Quartet’s fresh, informed and dedicated playing is another feather in the hat of the Israeli chamber music scene. Eli Eban ‘s refined, poetic expressiveness, his melodic shaping and control of instrumental color were moving and memorable.