|Members of the Else Ensemble with Prof. Arieh Vardi (photo courtesy Else Ensemble)|
The Else Ensemble (Germany/Israel) recently performed a series of chamber music concerts in Israel. This writer attended a concert referred to as “Night Discoveries – Chamber music in a Different Atmosphere”, which took place at the Israel Conservatory of Music (Tel Aviv) well into the evening on May 18th 2017.
The Else Ensemble, representing years of collaboration and friendship between Israeli and German musicians, is named after the German Jewish poet, author, playwright and painter Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945) and comprises young, outstanding musicians. Devoted to performing German and Jewish repertoire of the 19th century to present times, also making a deep enquiry into neglected works and repertoire affected by political events. Inspired by Else Lasker-Schuler, whose unique biography addresses both Germany and Israel, the ensemble performs and premieres works of women composers. The ensemble initiates innovative, cross-disciplinary concerts and has performed in major concert venues in Europe and Israel.
When one mentions Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007), most people will associate the Italian-American composer with “The Telephone”, “The Medium” and many other post-war operas he wrote; his vocal concert- and chamber music, however, has attracted less attention. The Trio for violin, clarinet and piano, written in his eighth decade, displays Menotti’s characteristically accessible and expressive tonal language. True to its title, the opening Capriccio was alive with colourful banter – at times whimsical, at others, lyrical - between Sarah Christian (violin) and Shelly Ezra (clarinet), with the players’ melodic expression in the Romanza rich and beguiling. The audience’s enjoyment of the perky 3rd movement (Envoi), giving the stage to each of the three outstanding players (piano: Naaman Wagner), offered a listening experience that certainly extended beyond the work’s technical brilliance.
Mordecai Seter’s (1916-1994) Trio for violin, ‘cello and piano (1973) is typical of the body of Seter’s very personal chamber music written in the 1970s. At the Tel Aviv concert, we heard it performed by violinist Hed Yaron Mayersohn, ‘cellist Valentin Scharff and Naaman Wagner. Following its opening block of dense dissonances, the work’s agenda becomes sparse and otherworldly; the Else players created the mood piece, its bleak string gestures frequently coloured with nebulous flageolette tonings set to velvety, dark chords or pedalled arpeggios on the piano. A work using Seter’s own modal material but also reflecting developments in Israeli music of the time, the players offered a coherent, transparent and finely sculpted performance, giving expression to the work’s mysterious, enigmatic and unravelled message.
Written at age 87 in Scotland, the Jewish, Austrian-born composer Hans Gál’s (1890-1987) final adopted home, his Quintet for clarinet and strings op.107 reflects the composer’s liking of wind-string settings. Performing it at the Else Ensemble concert were clarinetist Shelly Ezra, violinists Sarah Christian and Hed Yaron Mayersohn, violist Miriam Manasherov and ‘cellist Daniela Shemer. They presented the work’s lush, sympathetic Romantic canvas (the writing often calling to mind that of Brahms), its harmonic interest, its warmth and energy. Addressing the work's distinctive, sweeping melodic lines, Ezra’s tone was splendid throughout; still, Gal’s writing offered the audience the chance to appreciate each of the players. From the Nazis banning his music to the way his music fell out of fashion in the 1960s, there seems to be no viable reason for Gál’s works not to be performed more frequently nowadays on Israeli concert platforms. The Else Ensemble offered a fine opportunity to hear the quintet, certainly no less beautiful for its anachronistic style.
Famous for his outstanding film music (more than 150 scores!), it should be remembered that Nino Rota (1911-1979) also composed operas, ballets, orchestral-, choral- and chamber works. We heard the Trio for clarinet, ‘cello and piano (1973) performed by Ezra, Wagner and Scharff. The artists gave a fresh, vibrant reading of the opening Allegro movement, their playing abounding in shape and surge blended and communicative. Ezra and Scharff’s exquisite melodic treatment of the pensive Andante movement, moving from cantabile gestures to the fragile, to the vehement, was well complemented by Wagner’s attentive weaving in and out of the texture of both melodic and supportive roles. As to the final movement, its good-natured, naïve rakishness and boisterous, dancelike mood made for good cheer and an exhilarating close to the concert.
In the words of one of the Else Ensemble musicians: “As much as playing together is a personal joy for us, we deeply believe our ensemble shares an interesting story with the world: people of different cultures with a mutual complicated past, who come together for a celebration of chamber music at its highest level.” Formed two years ago, the ensemble brings to the concert hall outstanding musicianship and artistry, combining to form inspired and inspiring performance...and all these with a good measure of young energy.