On November 13th 2016, the Sunday Evening Classics series at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Brigham Young University) featured Alon Sariel-mandolin (Israel/Germany), Izhar Elias-guitar (Holland) and Michael Tsalka-piano (Israel/Holland) in a program of works all based on a song of Paisiello. The three artists, sharing a passion for historical performance and contemporary music, all having busy international careers, meet a number of times throughout the year to perform together. Composers from Europe, Canada, Israel and Australia have written works for this unique trio. The works heard at the Jerusalem concert appear on the trio’s first album “Paisiello in Vienna” (Brilliant Classics). The trio’s recently issued CD “Sharkiya” (IMI) presents the world’s first recording of original music for a plucked trio (harpsichord, guitar and mandolin) by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun (1922-2014).
“Nel cor più non mi sento” (In my heart I no more feel) appears in Giovanni Paisiello’s 1788 comic opera “L’amor contrasto”, better known as “La Molinara”. A simple and sweetly sentimental melody, indeed, a vehicle for ornamentation by singers of the day, it has served as the theme for a host of instrumental works by several European composers. The program opened with Alon Sariel and Izhar Elias’ performance of Bartolomeo Bortolazzi’s Variations in G-Major opus 8 on the song. There is some doubt as to this almost obscure Italian composer’s exact dates (possibly 1772-1846); what, however, is known is that he was a central figure in the field of plucked instruments, touring Vienna, Leipzig, Dresden and London as a mandolin virtuoso and singer. He wrote instrumental and vocal music, becoming the author of two important books on mandolin- and guitar methods. In 1809 he moved to Brazil, where he had connections with local music, theatre, politics and masonry. Sariel and Elias’ reading of the work rode on Sariel’s beautifully crafted, cantabile playing, on fine balance between the two artists, on the constant variety that well-written variations offer and on playing in which charm and directness enjoyed an equal footing.
Born in Pressburg (Slovakia), Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) dedicated his Grande Sonata in C-major opus 37a (1810) to Bortolazzi. Hummel’s cosmopolitan style straddles Classical- and Romantic styles (Hummel studied with Mozart, Haydn, Salieri and Clementi). The Grande Sonata can be played on mandolin or violin and harpsichord or piano. In the “Paisiello in Vienna” CD, Tsalka performs all the keyboard roles on fortepiano, well in keeping within the character of salon music of the time and whose sound meets plucked instruments at eye level. Playing on the BYU’s Steinway grand piano at the Jerusalem concert, Tsalka deftly pared down its volume to meet that of the mandolin, his touch lighter but shaped and expressive, their interaction imaginative, highlighting the different sound world of each tonality. Sariel took up the Andante movement’s enticement to add much embellishment, with both artists’ skilful and flexible rendering of the Rondo an intermixture of differently presented episodes, peppered with a dash of humour. Italian composer, guitarist, ‘cellist and singer Mauro Giuliani was one of the principal composers writing for piano and guitar, a seemingly unlikely combination. His Introduction and Variations in A-Major opus 113, written in the composer’s Vienna period, gave the audience the opportunity to hear and delight in Izhar Elias’s finely honed solo art. Following the unhurried piano introduction, Elias and Tsalka took turns to handle the melody and the piece’s whims and textures, with Elias engaging in ornately wrought phrase endings and transitions, building up momentum to end this fine concert piece with vigour.
Then to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Six Variations in G-Major WoO 70 for solo piano, one of the composer’s minor pieces, tossed off by Beethoven within a night to please a noblewoman next to whom he had been seated at an opera performance. Conforming to performance practice of the time, Michael Tsalka took the liberty to add just a few tasteful transitions and embellishments. And, with the variations’ rapid runs, filigree textures and busy left hand moments, the audience was treated to elegant, finely detailed piano music, devoid of thick, heavy textures and certainly a far cry from the angry musings of Beethoven’s later works. The program concluded with all three artists performing prolific Bohemian composer J.B.Vanhal’s Six Variations in G-Major opus 42, for violin/flute and guitar/fortepiano. Following the piece’s opening flourish, the artists varied the work’s scoring and timbral colour by allotting a different instrumental combination to each variation, keeping the listener on his toes both visually and audially. Once again, each artist’s personal and different expression was instrumental in creating the ambiance of the salon of the Viennese aristocracy. We may not have been seated in the plush music room of a wealthy Austrian family, but we were certainly able to hear every filigree sound and fragile gesture played by the artists in the BYU auditorium.
Taking the audience back to the Middle East, the artists performed “Sharkiya” (East Wind) from their new CD, a work by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun (1922-2014), its modal, inebriating soundscape delicately perfumed with exotic oriental rhythms and melodies.
Photo: Sonja Bauermann