The Carmel Quartet (Israel) opened its 10th season of Strings and More in November 2016 with a concert titled “Viennese Gemütlichkeit”. This writer attended the English language lecture-concert on November 16th at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Not the usual Carmel Quartet line-up, players included quartet members Rachel Ringelstein-violin, Yoel Greenberg-violin/viola and Tami Waterman-‘cello; they were joined by Einav Yarden-piano and Naomi Shaham-double bass. The Strings and More Series is directed by Dr. Yoel Greenberg. Established in 1999, the Carmel Quartet appears in Israel, Europe and the USA, having made its China debut tour in 2013.

 

The German word “Gemütlichkeit”, whose loose translation might be “cosiness” or “geniality”, a central concept of the Biedermeier period in Central Europe between 1815 and 1848, reflected in artistic styles influencing literature, the visual arts, interior design and music. Yoel Greenberg, with the help of his fellow musicians and some interesting visuals, spoke about the Biedermeier “subplot” of the Romantic period, having originated in stories about an imaginary schoolmaster by the name of Gottlieb Biedermeier and representing honest, pious and unambitious people. The solid, conservative style of Biedermeier furniture is indicative of these values, reminding the audience that much Biedermeier art was evident in the home environment, no less in the form of house concerts.

 

Among opera composers of the time, Gioachimo Rossini was most popular for the melodiousness of his works. The evening’s music began with the last movement - Tempesta:Allegro - from Rossini’s Sonata for Strings No.6 in D-major, one of a set of six string sonatas the composer wrote in 1804 at age 12. The players gave articulate and lively expression to the storm brewing and dying down and rising again in this descriptive piece, to its effects of tempestuous, rapidly descending scales, bird calls, etc., to its vitality and to the composer’s astute separation and highlighting of ‘cello and double bass parts. Too often performed by larger ensembles, it was fitting and rewarding to hear the movement presented in its original one-to-a-part setting.

 

Referring the private Viennese salons, Greenberg pointed out that most of Schubert’s Lieder were first aired there. To create the atmosphere of such house music, the artists at the Jerusalem concert – four singing, with Einav Yarden at the piano – gave a hearty performance of Franz Schubert’s miniature “Der Tanz” (The Dance) D 826, one of the composer’s 130 part songs. Greenberg also pointed out that every respectable home at this time would now have a piano (an item of Biedermeier furniture), usually played by girls and young women and that, in the music salon, amateur players were often joined by one professional. Such was composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a dazzling piano virtuoso, the bulk of his compositions being written for the piano. Hummel’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major opus 87, composed in Vienna in 1802, is a masterpiece. Typical of music of the congenial Biedermeier sound world in its familiar-sounding melodious style, it would have appealed to 19th century audiences as it did the audience at the Jerusalem Music Centre. Unusual in scoring, it is written for violin, viola, ‘cello, piano and double bass. The challenging piano part (surely performed by the composer), its flamboyance and effervescence evident throughout, was splendidly handled by Einav Yarden in colourful, easeful playing, with the string players’ contribution warm, full and rich. From the quintet’s sombre, dark-hued opening, to the folksy reference of the second movement Ländler, with the brief, evocative Largo leading directly into the Finale, the latter’s Rondo creating a full music canvas with some frenzied piano utterances and other pleasing solos on the part of the strings, the players kept the audience involved in this seldom performed piece.

 

The program concluded with Franz Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A-major D.667, The Trout. Greenberg reminded the audience that many of Schubert’s works were heard in the Viennese salon, with baritone Johann Michael Vogel premiering many of the composer’s songs in Vienna’s private homes. Then there were the Schubertiades, as so wonderfully depicted in Moritz von Schwind’s 1868 drawing, events sponsored by Schubert’s wealthier friends or by Schubert aficionados.  Greenberg also spoke of the Biedermeier concept of uncomplicated enjoyment as in the musical description of the fish swimming on a sunny day and of the fact that the variations were on Schubert’s own Lied - “Die Forelle”. Then there is the genesis of the work, the 22-year-old Schubert’s response to the request of the work by Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy amateur ‘cellist from Upper Austria and to be played by a group of musicians coming together to play Hummel’s rearrangement of his (Hummel’s) Septet for the same instrumental combination. No rarely performed work, the Jerusalem rendition spoke in favour of live performance from the work’s very first notes. Superbly led and coloured by Carmel Quartet’s 1st violinist Rachel Ringelstein, the players brought to life every palpable gesture of the work in playing that was transparent, richly sonorous, with both personal playing and that and wrought of the players’ exceptional ensemble skills. The top-class quality playing of guest artists Einav Yarden and Naomi Shaham conformed to the Carmel Quartet’s unflagging standards of excellence.

 

 Photo: Stanley Waterman

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