The first two concerts of the current season of Israel’s Camerata Jerusalem may not have had anything to do with each other, but each was quite noteworthy, and extremely enjoyable, in its own right.
The concert season, the orchestra’s 38th, began last month with the first installment of the ICJ InstruVocal Series. The current season is scheduled until June 2022.
The opening concert, under the baton of the founder and permanent director of the ICJ, Avner Biron, revolved mainly around the theme of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the funny comedy-ballet by the 17th century French playwright Molière. Two of the three pieces on the evening’s program were dedicated to The Middle Class Aristocrat, as the musical work is known in English.
The first of these pieces was Suite de Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Jean Baptiste Lully, the original composer of the first productions of Molière’s timeless work, presented at the Palais-Royal theater in Paris in 1670. What made this performance of the ICJ was exceptional was the illuminating narration of Benny Hendel, who provided an introduction and context to the play, before playing his role as storyteller of the plot. Without his comments punctuating the five movements of Lully’s suite, the evening would have lost much of its luster.
The only piece on the program not related to the evening’s theme was Gianchino Rossini’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, starring guest artist Mor Biron, an Israeli musician who lives and works in Germany. The expressive soloist, who played with a twinkle in his eyes, gave a virtuous rendition of a work rarely heard on an Israeli concert stage.
The final piece was Suite de Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, op. 60, by the German composer Richard Georg Strauss. This suite, composed four centuries after the play’s theatrical premiere in France, accompanied a 20th-century revival of the play in Germany. This version of the suite consisted of eight movements, whose alternately animated, slow, dance and gait tempos reflect the plot as it unfolds. Strauss’s score also served as the inspiration for a number of ballet performances, until the 1970s.
Multi-Piano: two pianos, 40 fingers
The Jerusalem Israel Camerata ended October with the first of the orchestra’s La Tempesta dei Solisti series, this time actually several soloists: four pianists who make up the Multiple Piano Ensemble. This particular concert was conducted by guest conductor Roi Azoulay.
Lead pianist Tomer Lev of Multi Piano took on the role of Master of Ceremonies for the evening, presenting the four piano pieces that would be played. According to Lev, these works for two pianos and orchestra are rarely performed today, but many of the original manuscripts had even disappeared over the centuries, requiring recent completion and / or reorchestration.
The first case was the Larghetto and Allegro opening for two pianos and orchestra by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The work was composed in 1781, just before the young genius devoted his energies to composing more lucrative operas, thus abandoning the genre of double concertos.
Lev took it upon himself to complete what was missing in the original manuscript; and to his credit, to the less-than-expert ear, it was impossible to detect where Mozart left off and Lev took over. The Larghetto-Allegro was performed in concert by Lev along with one of his three Multi-Piano colleagues who rotated as his partners throughout the night: Nimrod Meiry-Haftel, Berenika Glixman and Alon Kariv.
This was followed by Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos and Orchestra, K. 365. The concerto followed the usual three-movement format, albeit without the usual adage: Allegro, Andante and Rondo.
Here is a work by Frederic Chopin, written when the young composer was only 18 years old: Rondo for two pianos and orchestra, op. 73. As Lev explained, Chopin never wrote a concerto for two pianos, but this rondo is similar to the rondo of his first piano concerto.
The version performed by Israel’s Camerata Jerusalem was arranged by Lev in collaboration with Arie Levanon, at age 90, now one of the deans of Israeli conductors and composers. Chopin’s lively rondo was punctuated with soft interludes and concluded with a stormy ending.
After intermission, a welcome return to a custom that had been abandoned since the outbreak of the pandemic, although no refreshments were offered for sale, the ICJ performed a non-piano play: Edvard Grieg Suite in Old Style, Op. 40, “from the time of Holberg”. The five-movement suite includes some rarely performed tempos: Praeludium, Sarabande, Gavotte, Air, and Rigaudon.
The final piece of the concert was the result of an 1833 collaboration between Felix Mendelssohn and [his teacher] Ignaz Mosheles: Brilliant Fantasy and Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra. This work was another special Multi-Piano project, which according to Lev is one of the few ensembles in the world in possession of the original manuscript notes, which had apparently been forgotten for generations until it was recovered by the famous pianist Arthur. Rubinstein.
The Mendelssohn-Moscheles composition was inspired by the work of fellow German composer Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber, and includes within it a gypsy march, thus adding another intriguing dimension to a concert that was full of delightful revelations.
The upcoming concert series with Israel’s Camerata Jerusalem will star the winners of recent international piano competitions Rubinstein and Chopin, who will appear together on stage (November 13-15 in Zikhron Yaakov, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem).