Monday, May 23, 2016

The 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival to take place early June 2016

The Cyrypt, Abu Gosh
The 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival, under the direction of Hanna Zur, will take place from June 10th to 12th 2016. Concerts will take place at the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, on the hill of Kiryat Yearim (appropriately called the Town of Forests), and in the Crusader Church Crypt that nestles among mature pine trees of a magical garden in the lower area of Abu Gosh.

The Shevuot (Feast of Weeks) Festival will host the Oreya Choir from the Ukraine. Established in 1986, and directed by Alexander Vatsek, the prize-winning chamber choir of 32 voices will perform two concerts at the festival (10.6.’16, 11.6.’16), offering a wide range of music from Renaissance and Baroque to spirituals and modern works, as well as folk songs from the Ukraine and Moravia. Needing no introduction to Israeli- and Abu Gosh audiences, Ensemble Barrocade and the Israeli Vocal Ensemble, conducted by IVE director Yuval Benozer and with as host of very fine Israeli soloists, will collaborate to perform concerts of works by Händel, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Marcello and Torelli (10.6.’16, 11.6.’16). Another festive event will be the performance of W.A.Mozart’s formidable (and incomplete) Great Mass in C-minor K 427; Hanna Zur herself will conduct soloists, the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir and players of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (11.6.’16). “Dvorak-Brahms-Jobim-Villa Lobos” (12.6.’16) – a concert of the very excellent Gary Bertini Choir (Ronen Borshevsky-conductor, Svetlana Kostova-soprano/pianist) will present music of composers who have taken inspiration from folk song repertoire. Conducted by Ron Zarhi and joined by the Upper Galilee Choir, a fine line-up of soloists will perform Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” (12.6.’16); Keren Hadar will sing the role of the ill-fated Dido. It has become a tradition for up-and-coming young opera singers of the Meitar Opera Studio (Israeli Opera) to perform with their musical director conductor/arranger David Sebba at Abu Gosh festivals; in “Black Soul Voices (12.6.’16), they will present music of Kurt Weill and Gershwin, also a selection of gospel songs and spirituals.

In the intimate setting of the Crypt, “Voice and Flute with Yossi Arnheim” (11.6.’16) will feature Revital Raviv-soprano, Yossi Arnheim-flute and Irit Rob-piano in works of classical composers and Israeli composer David Zehavi. In “Amazing Grace – the most beautiful prayers” (10.6.’16) Irit Rob will also accompany alto Sigal Haviv in some of classical repertoire’s best-loved arias, a spiritual and Sasha Argov’s “In the Beginning”.

A treat for jazz fans in this Abu Gosh Festival will be an appearance of the virtuosic, sophisticated and international-touring Avishai Cohen Trio (Cohen-double bass/composer/singer, Omri Mor-piano, Itamar Doari-percussion). Not to be missed! “Tomash’s Blues” (11.6.’16), featuring two dynamic and multi-talented artists – actor/singer/musician Tomer Sharon and author/guitarist Yair Yona – will offer hearty entertainment in a program that will include some American evergreens as well as the cream of Israeli song repertoire. And for those of us inclined to indulge in a little sentimentality, soprano Hadas Faran Asia and guitarist Eyal Leber will gently walk us down memory lane in “Hallelujah – A Tribute to Leonard Cohen” (10.6.’16).

For festival-goers there to enjoy the outdoors, the Jerusalem Hills views and the pleasurable and relaxed holiday atmosphere, the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival offers informal outdoor concerts in five locations around the Kiryat Yearim Church, some excellent craft stalls and an opportunity to picnic and meet friends.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Yonah Zur and Dror Semmel perform sonatas for violin and piano at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Jerusalem

Pianist Dror Semmel
Violinist/violist Yonah Zur
Bach-Brahms-Beethoven was the title of a concert in the Best of Chamber Music series which took place at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on May 14th 2016. The concert featured Yonah Zur-violin and Dror Semmel-piano. Prof. Alexander Tamir, director of the Eden-Tamir Center, opened with words on the three B’s, the traits they shared and their influence on music in general.

The recital opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Keyboard in E-major BWV 1016, one of the group of six written possibly when Bach was Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, a keen musician, who played both violin and harpsichord. As Bach referred to these sonatas as “trios for harpsichord and violin”, the keyboard parts are written out in full and not in the form of figured bass, as in earlier works, making them the first true obbligato sonatas. A sonata da chiesa in form, the opening Adagio of the E-major sonata prescribes the violin a highly soloistic role; Yonah Zur allowed the florid opening melody to unfold naturally, sensitively and in a myriad of shapes as he poignantly leant into the movement’s harmonically important notes. As of the second movement, a bright Allegro in the form of a three-part fugue, the trio sonata idea becomes more focal, with the artists combining individuality and teamwork with fine articulacy. Zur and Semmel’s playing of the passacaglia-type third movement was moving as they passed expressive melodic lines from one to the other, this leading into the final Allegro, to which they gave a vivid rendition, its effervescent moto perpetuum theme moving around the three voices. Their performance of the work was engaging and meticulously thought out.

The artists then performed Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.3 in D-minor opus 108. A work of great dynamic variety and sudden emotional contrasts, the artists sensitively addressed all aspects, from the mysterious, sombre moments and tragic outbursts of the first movement, to their finely coordinated rendering of the somewhat rapt, luxuriant and cantabile second movement. Then to the enigmatic third movement, both playful, lyrical and impassioned, ending with two winks of an eye, then to the unbridled, fiery Romantic Brahmsian sound world of the fourth movement, its agitato character temporarily punctuated by a touch of intimacy and reflection. The technical challenges for both instruments of Sonata No.3 were channelled into the work’s emotional agenda and never a focus of acrobatic display. Well received into the warm, lively acoustic shell of the Eden-Tamir hall, Semmel and Zur’s reading of the economically and deftly structured work was articulate, uncompromising and humanly real as they communicated in balanced partnership, one never overwhelming the other.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A-major opus 47 “Kreutzer”, composed in the spring of 1803, has a strange history to it. It was originally dedicated to George Bridgetower, a mulatto violin virtuoso, who performed its premiere brilliantly together with the composer (Bridgetower received the music the day before the concert). Later, there was a disagreement between the two and Beethoven decided to dedicate the sonata to French violinist Rudolph Kreutzer, who described the work as “outrageously unintelligible” and actually never performed it. In the composer’s words, the work was “written in a very concertante style, quasi concerto-like”. Beethoven was known for his pianistic ability, but he was also intimately familiar with the violin and, aware of the changes the violin was undergoing at the time, made demands accordingly. Performing the most difficult of Beethoven’s ten violin and piano sonatas, Zur and Semmel had listeners perched at the edges of their seats, no minor feat in a work whose every note is so familiar to chamber music lovers. Their playing of the opening movement was suspenseful, majestic, fresh and exciting, but also sensitive and tender, with each small gesture painstakingly crafted, their gentle flexing and each soupçon of a pause critical to Beethoven’s rich canvas of moods. Their playing of the Andante con variazione was tranquil, elegant and noble, the manner they set out of the different variations simply delightful and heart-warming. The work’s original sense of urgency returned with the Finale, the artists juggling its unsettled nature with upbeat, virtuosic buoyancy. Throughout the sonata, Semmel and Zur kept the audience aware of Beethoven’s writing for equal forces.

Dror Semmel returned to Israel after six years in New York, where he studied at Mannes College. completing a doctorate at Stony Brook University. Over recent years, he has been performing as a soloist with orchestras, in solo recitals, and chamber music in Israel, the USA and Europe. Future engagements include concerts in the USA, Italy and the Far East. Most of his recitals comprise German repertoire, over recent years including late Beethoven sonatas, late Schubert sonatas, Schubert’s “Winterreise” and Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Partitas. He and his pianist sister Shir Semmel perform as the Jerusalem Piano Duo. Dror Semmel teaches at the Israel Conservatory (Tel Aviv) and at the Jerusalem Conservatory, where he heads the piano department, is director of master classes and serves as juror for the Jerusalem Young Artists Competition.

Yonah Zur graduated from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, receiving a Masters degree from the Juilliard School of Music. He regularly performs throughout Israel, the USA and Europe as soloist and chamber musician, playing both traditional and contemporary repertoire, with special interest in music of Israeli composers. He has soloed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Contemporary Players and the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. Yonah Zur joined the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in 2011, serving as assistant principal violist; he recently joined the Carmel Quartet. Zur is on the faculty of the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Believing in the artist’s role in society, Yonah Zur has performed much in educational concerts; for the last six years, he has been leading concerts in schools throughout the greater Jerusalem area.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA's Special 2016 Independence Day Concert

Maestro Frederic Chaslin (
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Eve concert took place in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on May 11th 2016. In cooperation with the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the concert, most of which was conducted by the JSO’s musical director Frédéric Chaslin, was one of the orchestra’s festive events of its 78th concert season. Soloist was pianist Tom Zalmanov.

Following words of welcome from JSO director general Yair Stern, the event got off to a jaunty and fitting start with an Israeli work -“Amusement Park” by Michael Damian. Born in Romania (1954), Damian immigrated to Israel in 1983, received a PhD in Musicology from Bar-Ilan University in 2002 and has been active in the field of  composing. An experienced conductor, especially of contemporary music, he was the JSO’s assistant chief conductor from 2007 to 2010. Michael Damian is assistant principal of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s viola section. A festive concert overture, “Amusement Park” was composed in 2013 and awarded the Mark Kopytman Prize for Orchestral Music the same year. Michael Damian conducted it at this concert. “Amusement Park”, a celebration of orchestral textures, variety and timbral articulacy, offers some nice small solos to the players, a fugal section and a number of appealing, jazzy moments.  Well written and entertaining, this provided a fine, energizing start to the festive event.

We then heard Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E-minor opus 11, with young Tom Zalmanov performing the solo role. Written in 1830, when Chopin  was 20 years old, and referred to as No.1, the concerto is actually Chopin’s second piano concerto but the first to be published.  From the opening sounds of the work, Chaslin, Zalmanov and instrumentalists achieved a very fine balance of sound and agenda. Zalmanov’s playing of the opening Allegro maestoso was clean, articulate, at times suitably assertive, at others, tender but never venturing into the quagmire of the over-sentimental. His superb technique and control emerged in runs delicate in agility. Chopin referred to the concerto's second movement as a Romance in the “spirit of reverie”. In a letter to his childhood friend Titus Sylwester Woyciechowski he wrote that “the Adagio…is not intended to be powerful, it is more romance-like, calm, melancholic, it should give the impression of a pleasant glance at a place where a thousand fond memories come to mind.” Here, with natural shaping, grace and lightness of touch, Zalmanov presented Chopin’s “narrative”, taking time to place notes with strategic calm, to embellish and reflect in crystalline sounds, the small agitato of the third subject whisking away the second movement's daydream in a moment of passion. In the Rondo:vivace third movement, its refrain suggesting a krakowiak (a fast, syncopated Polish dance from the region of Kraków) Zalmanov engaged in some bold, well-contrasted playing, as he dipped into his palette of timbres and raced across the keyboard to join Chaslin in expressing the movement’s liveliness and wit. Although only 17, Tom Zalmanov, a student of Lea Agmon and a participant in the prestigious Goldman Program for Young Musicians of the Jerusalem Music Centre, performs with competence and musical maturity. A winner of several competitions, he has performed in Europe and South East Asia. In February of this year, he gave a solo recital in Geneva, Switzerland.

The concert ended with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5 in C-sharp minor. Joining the JSO to form a Mahler-proportioned orchestra were 15 players from the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. A mammoth undertaking, Chaslin and his players created the work’s broad soundscape, one sweeping from mourning to triumph and reflecting the composer’s personal life (the symphony, however, has no non-musical program). Opening with a lone trumpet call issuing in a funeral march, we were guided through the rich variety of timbres and emotions with which Mahler paints his somewhat sinister canvas – demonic scenes, struggle, frenzy, somber moments, lyrical moments, Romantic sentimentality (never to slip into parody), Austrian country dances and the fifth movement’s striking four-part double fugue. Then there is the bitter-sweet Adagietto, one of Mahler’s greatest “hits”, in which only strings and harp play, with the harp playing enigmatically in a hesitating, almost improvisatory mode. A much-loved movement sometimes performed as a piece on its own, it was used as movie music in Visconti’s 1971 “Death in Venice”; Chaslin’s reading of it was lyrical, calm and kindly. It was a joy to see and hear students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music performing confidently with their JSO counterparts in Mahler’s Symphony No.5, a daunting challenge and large-scale journey for any orchestral player.



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Alexander Trio in a Holocaust Day concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre

Nitai Zori,Michal Tal,Ella Toovey

The Alexander Trio – Nitai Zori-violin, Ella Toovey-‘cello and Michal Tal-piano - performed at a Holocaust Day concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim on May 5th 2016. Formed in 2013, the trio is named in memory of violinist Alexander Tal (1932-2005), father of Michal Tal. Alexander Tal was among the most prominent Israeli musicians in the 1960s and early ‘70s, a founder of the New Israeli Quartet and the Israeli Chamber Ensemble.  The Alexander Trio performs at festivals in Israel and overseas, in the Felicja Blumental Centre concert series and records for the Voice of Music, Israeli radio. In addition to the large piano trio repertoire, the Alexander Trio performs works written for it, also collaborating with other artists.

The Holocaust Memorial Day concert opened with “Suite in Memoriam” (1947) for piano trio by Yitzhak Edel (1896-1973). Born in Poland to a Hassidic family, Edel spent two years in Russia, where he became acquainted with the work of the Society for Jewish Folk Music. Back in Warsaw in 1922, he engaged in music education (for three years, he taught at the Janusz Korczak Orphanage) and established the Company for Jewish Music.  Edel immigrated to Palestine in 1929, settling in Tel Aviv, where he taught, conducted choirs and composed. The Alexander Trio’s playing of “Suite in Memoriam”, a work which is rich in Jewish melodies and sentiment, brought out the vibrancy of Edel’s scoring with its sad undertones, giving its moving solos and duets personal expression.  Referring to the work he dedicated to the Polish victims of the Holocaust, Edel wrote: “I did not attempt here to express the terrible tragedy which took place in the 20th century in the heart of Europe. I attempted only to preserve the sounds inseparably bound to the spiritual life of millions of men, women and children who were cruelly slaughtered, suffocated and burnt by barbaric murderers for their only one and only unforgivable crime – that of being Jews”.

Born in Moravia, pianist, composer, writer and educator Gideon Klein (1919-1945) was a person of prodigious skills, writing music in a number of styles, composing some 25 works and writing song arrangements. In 1941, he was deported to Terezin, where he remained for three years. There he taught, performed, served as pianist for several opera productions and composed. Gideon Klein perished in Auschwitz. Until 1990, it was thought that the works Klein wrote prior to his internment were lost until a suitcase was found containing all the works he had written before the war, revealing experimental works composed in the most contemporary styles of the time. The manuscript of the Duo for violin and ‘cello (1941) was one of the works preserved in the suitcase; Klein had not managed to complete it. Ella Toovey and Nitai Zori gave a committed reading of the work, displaying the opening Allegro con fuoco movement’s intense, atonal moments reinforced with its bowed ‘cello tremolos, double stopping and pizzicato, interesting rhythmic shifts and clashing harmonies, then minimal moments in which the violin plays a ghostly melody and the enigmatic final major chord. In the Lento movement the artists, each instrument playing its own agenda, recreate the profound, convincing and soul-searching mood piece. The music then suddenly cuts out, poignantly symbolizing the premature termination of the composer’s life. Gideon Klein’s legacy has been preserved by several musicians, but primarily by his sister pianist and music educator Eliška Kleinová (1912-1999).

We then heard the violin and piano setting of “Kaddish” (the Jewish prayer for the dead, sung in Aramaic) the first of two pieces from Maurice Ravel’s “Deux mélodies hébraïques” composed in 1941 originally for voice and piano.  Zori’s masterly and finely crafted evocation of the melismatic, cantorial style had the audience following every nuance of the melodic and emotional course as Tal gave sensitive expression to the spare, marvellously coruscant utterances of Ravel’s piano text.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.2 in E-minor opus 67 was completed in the spring of 1944; its emotional agenda arises from both national- and personal tragedy. After several years of brutal war, Russia was emerging to realize the reality of the death camps and fate of the Jews. At this time, Shostakovich also lost his closest friend – music writer and linguist Ivan Sollertinsky. Bereft at the unexpected death at 42 of his “ideal friend”, “mentor” and “alter ego”, the composer dedicated the trio to his memory. Four days after Sollertinsky’s death, Shostakovich completed the first movement. The Alexander Trio gave a gripping and involved performance of the E-minor Trio, with attention to the fine detail of its unique motifs, to questions of balance and to the work’s almost unbroken intensity. From the bleak, ghostly and ever shocking opening of its main theme in muted ‘cello harmonics, to the pensive piano theme, to a sinister waltz, the artists showed the audience at the Music Centre through the work’s desolate soundscape. Following their frenetic playing of the brash, unrelenting, wild-natured and sarcastic second movement, the third movement opens with- and is dominated by fateful, crashing, fate-filled chords, the tragic, beautiful melodies played out by violin and ‘cello heartrending and moving. With its reference to former motifs and themes, we also hear new melodies in the fourth movement – Russian folk melodies and a Jewish tune -  with Zori’s strident violin comments set against powerful ‘cello utterances and expressive piano melodies.  And there is much to be expressed in the opus 67; the Alexander Trio’s playing of it was profound on all levels, perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but more than rewarding. Shostakovich’s interest in Jewish music goes back earlier than 1944. He wrote:” It seems I comprehend what distinguishes the Jewish melos. A cheerful melody is built…on sad intonations…” The characteristic combination of tragedy and cheer, of irony, beauty and despair of Jewish music is also present in Shostakovich’s music and nowhere more pointedly than in the E-minor Trio.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Paisiello in Vienna" recorded in 2015 by Izhar Elias, Alon Sariel and Michael Tsalka

Giovanni Paisiello  (
Paisiello in Vienna – Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento” (Brilliant Classics) features performance by Izhar Elias (guitar) Alon Sariel (mandolin) and Michael Tsalka (fortepiano). It  was recorded at the Museum Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis, Amsterdam in 2015.

Born in the Kingdom of Naples, Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) was trained in Naples and established his reputation as an opera composer there. He and his librettist Giambattista Lorenzi collaborated to write fast-moving comic operas as well as larger, dramatic operas. In 1776, the composer moved to St. Petersburg at the suggestion of Empress Catherine II, remaining there for eight years, during which time he composed most of his operas. In 1774, Paisiello spent a short time in Vienna in the employ of Emperor Joseph II, where his comic operas enjoyed much popularity. He returned to Naples to serve as theatre composer in the court of King Ferdinand IV. Hearing that Napoleon was an admirer of his music, Paisiello left for Paris in 1802, returning to Naples in 1804. He was known to have composed more than 80 operas, some 40 Masses and other sacred works, symphonies and various other instrumental works. “Nel cor più non mi sento” (In my heart I no longer feel) is sung twice in his opera “L’Amor contrastato” or “La Molinara” (1788) - first by the beautiful Rachelina, to be reiterated by playboy Calloandro, then to be sung by her again, this time answered by the notary Pistolfo, who is also in love with her. Not music of any complexity, the simple song has been and remains a longstanding staple of voice students. It has also been used by as the subject for variations by such composers as Bartolomeo Bortolazzi, Hummel, Beethoven, Johann Baptist Wanhal, Paganini, Sor, Friedrich Silcher, Giovanni Bottesini, Luigi Castellacci, Joseph Gelinek, Christoph August Gabler, Moritz Lichnowsky, Ferdinand Kauer, Nicola Antonio Manfroce and Mauro Giuliani. This disc presents a selection of the variations.

The second focus of the disc is the popularity of the mandolin and guitar in Vienna. During the first decade of the 19th century, for example, Bartolomeo Bortolazzi (1778-1820) a key figure of the mandolin and six-string guitar, who moved to Vienna in 1805, was known in Vienna as a virtuoso artist, composer of instrumental- and vocal music and author of two best-selling methods for the mandolin and guitar. Alon Sariel, playing an original 1850 Pilade Mauri mandolin, accompanied by Izhar Elias on an original 1812 Carlo Guadagnini guitar, presented the solo with elegance, refined ornamentation and a hint of flexing and inégal mannerism, the two artists excellently coordinated in a reading rich in vivacity. Of the greatest guitarists of his time, Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was one of the principal composers writing for guitar and the combination of piano and guitar. He arrived in Vienna around 1806. Elias and Michael Tsalka perform Giuliani’s Introduction and Variations in A on Paisiello’s “Nel cor più non mi sento” opus 113, followed by the Polonaise Allegro in A. Tsalka is playing a ca. 1820 Joseph Böhm fortepiano and what a wonderful balance this instrument strikes with the guitar. In a rewarding rendering of the Giuliani piece, both artists address detail, shape and gestures, highlighting the beauty and charm of Classical clarity. Topping off Giuliani’s variations is the hearty, more challenging Polonaise, its momentum building up to a triumphant ending.

Variations were popular fare for the many pianists and piano students in Vienna. From 1793 to 1801, his first decade in Vienna, Beethoven composed some twelve or more sets of variations on popular melodies; all were snapped up by the publishers. The story has it that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his “Six Variations in G” Wo070 (1795) for a lady who had been seated next to him at a performance of “La Molinara”, completing the work overnight. In his articulate and spontaneous presentation of the work, Tsalka’s playing goes beyond displaying the different figuration of each variation, as he addresses questions of ornamentation, scoring, timbre and texture. And how appealing and authentic the variations sound played on the fortepiano! Prolific Bohemian composer Johann Baptist Wanhal (1730-1813) went to Vienna in 1760, studying with Karl Dittersdorf, then returning there in 1780, where he supported himself as a freelance composer. He was much published and the Viennese public appreciated the music of this important and influential figure. His “Six Variations in G” opus 42 on the same Paisiello song were originally scored for violin/flute and guitar/fortepiano. Elias, Tsalka and Sariel present it with mandolin, guitar and fortepiano. The liner notes remind the listener that “the liberty of substituting one melodic instrument for another was a fairly common practice during the Classical and Romantic Eras”. The artists’ performance of the Wanhal work - rich and hearty, bristling in cantabile playing and in fine collaboration, with a touch of caprice and humour – highlights the composer’s warmth and independent spirit. With Wanhal an unduly neglected composer, Michael Tsalka is drawing attention to this master in live performance and in his recording of Wanhal’s Capriccios.

Other works here not based on Paisiello’s modest opera melody include another three attractive Beethoven works, in which Sariel and Tsalka collaborate superbly in playing that is a celebration of the freshness, energy and invention of the young composer not yet engrossed in the brooding and suffering of his later life. Then there are two stylish works by eminent Austrian composer, concert pianist and improviser Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), the last representative of the Viennese Classical School. Elias joins Tsalka in Hummel’s “Pot-pourri” opus 53, entertaining with its quotes from popular operas, as guitar and fortepiano communicate, express and interweave engagingly in this work of variety and joie-de-vivre. 

The third focus of the CD is the genre of house music in Vienna, activity decisive in the shifting of musical patronage from the aristocracy to the upper middle class. These salon concerts often required performance by all attendees, regardless of whether they were amateur or professional players (or singers). It also boosted music publishing and the piano industry. The works on this disc call to mind the repertoire for private performance in the homes of the bourgeoisie, the body of Hauskonzert works all too easily overlooked today and sadly neglected.  The bright, vivid quality of “Paisiello in Vienna” presents every detail of this music with articulacy as performed by three outstanding artists, together with the genuineness and refreshing naiveté of music of the Classical era. 


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Vag Papian conducts the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, two Oratorio Choirs and soloists in "Song of Destiny" at the Jerusalem YMCA

Maestro Vag Papian (
“Song of Destiny” – a program of Romantic works – was performed by the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir (musical director: Kate Belshé) and the Jerusalem Oratorio Bel Canto Choir (musical director: Salome Rebello). All were conducted by Maestro Vag Papian, who serves as principal conductor of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra. The concert took place on April 19th 2016 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, the Jerusalem International YMCA.

The program opened with a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 in a-minor opus 56, “Scottish”. On his visit to Scotland in 1829, Mendelssohn, deeply impressed by the rugged ruins of Holyrood Palace (the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland) wrote “I believe I found today in the old chapel the beginning of my Scottish Symphony”. An accomplished painter, the composer returned from his trip with some 30 dated pencil drawings and pen-and-ink sketches; his musical sketches, however, were laid aside, not to be completed as a symphony till 1842. When Mendelssohn conducted its premiere, he presented the work as “absolute” music; indeed, it includes no Scottish melodies and was probably largely influenced by the spirit of the Scottish literature the composer had read as well as the Scottish landscape. Maestro Papian and the Ashdod Orchestra gave expression to the large work, from the first movement’s sombre opening “Holyrood” theme, its tension and agitation, its plaintive and stormy moments and its pictorial and poetic aspects. Following the scurrying staccato Vivace movement, with its fanfare interjections (an association of the composer’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”), the players stressed the Adagio’s dramatic, at times reflective and sweeping intensity. In the final movement, the orchestra juxtaposed the threatening first subject with the second more wistful idea, bringing the work to a powerful and majestic close. The performance indeed captured the heavy, brooding, sometimes martial character of much of the work (punctuated by the lightness and grace of the second movement), offering some very fine wind playing throughout.

One of the four Masses written in his teen years, Franz Schubert’s Mass No.2 in G-major (1815),  a work scored for mixed choir, string orchestra and organ, was written within six days. The Jerusalem performance highlighted the work’s lyricism, moments of grandeur and innate tunefulness, the Oratorio Choirs (joined by both conductors in the soprano section) opening with velvety singing of the Kyrie, then competently weaving Schubert’s largely homophonic textures into and around the lines sung by the three soloists. Soprano Efrat Vulfsons’ substantial, richly coloured voice added emotional weight to the Christe, conveying tranquillity and the element of personal utterance in the Agnes Dei as the choir represented the collective plea. Bass Yoav Meir Weiss, his voice mellifluous and fresh, joined Vulfsons in the Gloria, as they transformed its jubilance into the more grievous Domine Deus. Ron Silberstein’s full-bodied tenor voice formed a trio with Vulfsons and Weiss in the Benedictus. In their splendid singing of the stile antico Credo, the choirs presented its simple, hymnlike melody set against the detached, moving bass line, their singing infused with eloquence and displaying a finely blended choral sound.  A drawback in the YMCA hall was having the choirs surrounding the orchestra from the back and sides; the tenors and altos were not sufficiently audible, which was unfortunate.

Johannes Brahms “Schiksalslied” (Song of Destiny) opus 54 was begun in 1868. It took three years to complete and was premiered in October 1871, with Brahms himself conducting. The poem itself appears in Friedrich Hölderlin’s novel “Hyperion” (1799), in which the title character is an 18th century Greek who fights against the Ottoman Empire and ponders the rift between the ideal perfection of unity and the destructive effects of suffering borne of personal freedom. The work is scored for 4-part mixed choir and orchestra. In contrast to the mainstream choral fare performed by many Israeli choirs,  the Oratorio choirs took on board the musical- and emotional challenges of this intensely Romantic tone poem; devoid of soloists, the choirs engaged in the contemplative, philosophical character of the text, its contrasts and its unanswered questions, performing the work in pleasingly intelligible German. No less integral to the work’s message, the orchestra contributed much to the unique work, as it opened with a slow, ominous instrumental Adagio. Still in the Adagio vein, the choirs then extol the peace of the Olympian gods, who are “free from care”. Then the tables turn, with the choir then setting before the audience the pitiful lot of man, the suffering of humanity, the choral part then fading away:

‘To us is allotted
No restful haven to find;
They falter, they perish,
Poor suffering mortals
Blindly as moment
Follows moment,
Like water from mountain
To mountain impelled.
Destined to disappearance below.’ (Translation: Edwin Evans)

Leaving the choir “wordless”, the orchestra takes over, concluding on a more positive note with the composer finally spreading a message of peace in the postlude.  Orchestra and choirs collaborated closely in conveying the work’s profound text and mood most effectively.

A graduate of the Moscow and St. Petersburg Conservatories, Vag Papian’s international career as a conductor has covered orchestral music and opera; he also continues to perform as a pianist. Since immigrating to Israel in 1990, he has conducted- and soloed with several Israeli orchestras.  Today musical director of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, Vag Papian is also a professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv).  His engaging and hearty direction at the Jerusalem concert drew players, choristers and soloists into the program material with commitment.    




Monday, April 18, 2016

Maestro Andrew Parrott (UK) conducts the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and soloists in a program of music of Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell (
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s fifth concert for the 2015-2016 season was “Come Ye Sons of Arts”, a program of music of Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Joining the JBO was the Jerusalem Academy of Music Chamber Choir (director: Stanley Sperber), tenor soloist Doron Florentin, with some solos sung by members of the choir. Directing the performance was Maestro Andrew Parrott (UK), honorary conductor of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.

Valuable information and inferences from Parrott’s decades of work and thoughts have recently appeared  in his authoritative book of essays “Composers’ Intentions? Lost Traditions of Musical Performance” (Boydell Press, 2015), focusing mostly on vocal and choral matters in performing works of Monteverdi, J.S.Bach and Henry Purcell. Directing the Taverner Choir and Taverner Players (formed by him in 1973) Parrott’s direction of two CDs of “Purcell: Music for Pleasure and Devotion”, compiled in 2003 from many different performances, presents a cross-section of Purcell’s oeuvre – incidental theatre music, instrumental pieces, songs and sacred music. Israeli audiences were privileged to hear some Purcell works of most of those categories in the JBO concerts performed in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa under his direction this April. This writer attended the concert on April 14th 2016 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem International YMCA.

The program opened with the Symphony to Purcell’s ode “Hail! Bright Cecilia” Z.328 (1692), the masterful overture composed in a series of short, contrasted sections, its majestic trumpet/oboe calls answered by strings, elaborate fugal writing, pensive soul-searching moments and a rich sprinkling of Purcell’s unusual and beguiling harmonic progressions, with many more of the latter to grace the rest of the program. To quote Paul McCreesh, “Hail! Bright Cecilia is probably the first substantial piece of English music to use the full orchestra…an extraordinarily forward-looking work…”  Maestro Parrott left the podium as violinists Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid and Smadar Schidlovsky engaged in the discourse of a stylish, buoyant and creative reading of Purcell’s “Fantasia: Three Parts upon a Ground” Z.731, their brilliant playing enhanced by some delicate and poetic theorbo sounds (Ophira Zakai) and ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi’s ebullient solo. Purcell was about 21 when he began writing music for theatre; this body of music became a significant part of his output; with William and Mary on the throne there was vastly less music at court, encouraging Purcell to compose music to 43 plays. There is little probability that any of us will see woman playwright Aphra Behn’s “Abdelazar or the Moor’s Revenge” let alone “The Gordian Knot Unty’d” whose writer is not known and little is known of the play. With a little luck we might have the fortune to attend a performance of the composer’s last semi-opera “The Indian Queen”. Andrew Parrott offers a glimpse into the London theatrical scene of the time in his charming collection of incidental pieces taken from these works, in which we heard trumpeter Yuval Shapira’s deftly fashioned Trumpet Overture (“The Indian Queen”) and the ensemble’s performances of a Rondeau, Chaconne and Symphony and Dance that were both bold, elegant and entertaining.

Then to one of the most solemn and mournful choral pieces from the Baroque period – Purcell’s “Funeral Sentences” Z.860 (1677). Purcell was responsible for organizing the music for the funeral of young Queen Mary II on March 5th 1695. Much of the music performed was by Morley; research has revealed that only the third version of “Thou knowest Lord” as well as the March and Canzona (the latter two not performed at the JBO concert) were played at her funeral. Perhaps the “Funeral Sentences” were intended for Purcell’s teacher Matthew Locke. What is known is that the deeply melancholic and resigned anthem was soon to be performed at Purcell’s own funeral the very same year. Focusing on the transitory nature of life, fear of divine judgement and the hope for mercy, it contains some of Purcell’s most spine-chilling word painting - daring leaps, chromaticism and jarring dissonances. Parrott’s performance of it employed two separate one-to-a-voice ensembles as well as the whole choir - some beautiful voices. Somewhat disadvantaged at their being placed at the back of the YMCA stage, we seem to have missed out on some of the choir’s resonance; the singers might have given the work more compelling urgency had they been placed closer to the audience. As to the 8-voiced anthem “Hear My Prayer, O Lord” – Psalm 102 Z.15 (only a part of an incomplete work), also with a continuo of organ (David Shemer) and violone (Dara Blum) at this concert, conductor and choir gave vehement expression to the piece’s daring and powerful mix of seemingly simple vocal lines as they took on the relentless, seamless flow of the work, its build-up and soaring of tension throughout,  conveying in Purcell’s complex harmonic language the text’s anguish, to then find peace in the final understated open fifth C-minor chord.

The celebratory anthem “Jubilate Deo” Z.232 was first performed on St. Cecilia’s Day in 1694 in London. In Purcell’s fresh, lively setting of the text, in which full Baroque tutti sections interject and alternate with more reflective prayerful passages, tenor Doron Florentin exhibited involvement, warmth of sound, eloquence and vocal stamina as he conversed with the trumpet line and dueted with soprano Ayelet Kagan and with bass Asaf Benraf, the latter two also members of the Chamber Choir, all forces joining to make for a fine performance of the final contrapuntal tutti.

“Come Ye Sons of Arts” Z.323 is Purcell’s final birthday ode for Queen Mary. The opening tri-partite Symphony proved to be a fine vehicle for the JBO, and especially festive for the winds, as Parrott and the instrumentalists gave meaning to each gesture and mood change, the wistful Adagio given time to unfold naturally and to take an extra tug at the heart strings. With the opening chorus gently swayed, the instruments sounded as connected to the words as were the singers.  In lieu of two countertenors, Doron Florentin and mezzo-soprano Tamara Navot performed “Sound the Trumpet” with some nice imitation and word-play despite their being ill matched volume-wise. With the recorders (Myrna Herzog, Shai Kribus) poignant in expression and beautifully matched in spirit and tuning in the obbligato role of the ode’s centre piece “Strike the Viol”, Florentin shaped and sculpted the vocal line, energized by Purcell’s inebriating rhythmic insistence and instrumental setting. Bass Asaf Benraf’s solos were pleasing, musical and carefully handled. Soprano Yuval Oren’s communicative manner and competent singing of “Bid the Virtues” were charmingly balanced with the oboe obbligato (Ofer Frenkel), Oren joining Benraf in duo in the final movement. Ending the program with this joyful ode, a work comprising some of Baroque music’s finest “hits”, our attention was drawn by Maestro Parrott to the specific and subtle agendas of both choir and orchestra throughout.