Soldier in the Israeli Army
Merkin Concert Hall
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Sonata in E flat Major, K. 374f  (arrangement for Clarinet Quartet by Johann Anton André)
Robert Schumann: Piano Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 47
Igor Stravinsky: Suite from “A Soldier’s Tale”
Israeli Chamber Project: Tibi Cziger (clarinet), Yehonatan Berick (violin), Mark Holloway (viola), Michal Korman (cello), Assaff Weisman (piano)
A. Weisman (© Avshalom Levi)
“Its slow movement is famous for the direction to the ‘cellist to tune his C string down to B flat...which enables Schumann to produce the...beautiful harmonic progression, underpinned by a ‘cello pedal’.”
Anyone who knows me well will immediately see why this program was a must for my critical list. The third movement of the Schumann served as the opening and closing theme for my radio program and thus I have probably heard it more over the years than any other piece. This repetition has only made this movement that much more beautiful, personal and intellectually satisfying. If there are compositions that I love more than the Schumann, they are the Clarinet Concerto and especially the Clarinet Quintet of Mozart. This evening we were all treated to their distant cousin, the Clarinet Quartet in E flat Major (arrangement of Violin Sonata K. 380).
Mozart was enchanted by “Fräulein Klarinette” (a term coined by Brahms, who was also transported by the unique sound of the instrument) and wrote some of his greatest works for it in the year before his death (another link to Brahms). This was not one of them but certainly an interesting sidelight to a brilliant career. All was fine but for the choppy execution of the clarinetist, who found it difficult to complete his phrases on occasion, leaving us listeners with the impression that either his breath control was spotty or he was unaccountably nervous. The arranger, Johann Anton André, did a fine job of capturing Wolfgang’s romantic mood, filled with longing and questioning, however Mr. Cziger was not up to the task, neither musically nor poetically. This deficiency was all the more annoying when presented against the background of his superb peers.
I heard Mr. Weisman some years ago in recital and the piece that stands out in the roseate memory is the Schumann Fantasie in C major, a fiendishly difficult renunciation of the black keys, leaving the performer, if he is not careful, drowning in a sea of ivory with few sharps or flats to which to cling. This pianist was able then to navigate expertly as well as poetically, great training to lead this current evening’s extraordinarily beautiful Piano Quartet in E flat Major. Here the performance of the group was superb, respecting and honoring every Romantic tradition. The first movement’s Allegro ma non troppo was masterful, the pianist ending just one beat after his mates in one of Schumann’s great inspirational moments. I know that this may sound over the top, but the Andante cantabile was the finest that I have ever heard, each of the three strings having an opportunity to sing that incredible theme strongly, sweetly and romantically. Of especial note was the rendition by cellist Michal Korman whose unashamed vibrato brought a tear to the eye. Wonderful music making...
However, the question of the evening remained how could people who know firsthand that it takes many, many years of practice, talent and commitment to reach the highest levels in one’s art throw together a few rehearsals and consider themselves effective actors? L’Histoire du soldat is an extremely malleable work and two previous renditions come quickly to mind. One was the Berlin Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble performing in a gymnasium in Chinatown and the other was a presentation of the tableaux as theatrical pieces staged at the 92nd Street Y with Alan Alda as the headliner. However, and here I paraphrase, “Tibi Cziger is no Alan Alda.”
Just because Ravel included a dancer at the premiere of his Boléro is no reason to butcher the optional spoken lines in the Stravinsky. Had these words been stated in a deadpan manner they would have been less cringe-worthy than the actual attempt of these otherwise competent players to throw a bit of thespianism into the mix. The result was really quite embarrassing and, since they had already announced that the contemporary piece on the program, Yinam Leef’s Triptych, had been jettisoned because the Stravinsky “ran long” (how easy it would have been to simply eliminate the recitations!), I chose to scurry off on that dusty road early to deal with the fact that my train had been mysteriously rerouted for no apparent reason, leaving what my British friends would call the “amateur dramatics” behind.