IN: Reviews

When Israelis Were In Rockport’s Land


Shalin Liu Center

During a period of (truly) hard times for Israelis, the four musicians from Israeli Chamber Project who appeared at Shalin Liu Center for Rockport Music on Sunday have soldiered on (so to speak), playing brilliantly, spreading beauty and emotive force. Based in both Israel and New York, this award-winning ensemble consists mostly of Israeli-born virtuosos who appear to adore playing together. Among its members are prize-winners at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Russia, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, Avery Fisher Career Grant, and the Gaspar Cassado Cello Competition. Harp virtuoso Sivan Magen is a permanent member. Knowing Sivan, I have followed this Chamber Project for most of their 17 years, although until Sunday I never had heard them live as this marked the group’s first appearance in the Boston area.

Four members of this geographically far-flung contingent―violinist Itamar Zorman, clarinetist Tibi Cziger, violist Guy Ben-Ziony, and pianist Assaff Weisman―delivered a most enjoyable assortment that opened with the rarely heard Dumka (1940) for Violin, Viola and Piano by Rebecca Clarke. (Benjamin Britten also wrote 2 pieces for this combination). Clarke was herself a violist; since her death in 1979, her unpublished compositions have slowly emerged, and her status as one of the most important English composers has been recognized. Dumka, a musical form famously used by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky, has its roots in Eastern European folk ballads and laments. Like many dumkas, Clarke’s three-movement example features mercurial changes between exuberance and melancholy. Delivering passion, impeccable string intonation, and piano colorations, Zorman, Ben-Ziony, and Weisman made a strong case for this rarity.

A one-and-a-half-minute number from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, “Fast zu Ernst” (Almost too Serious) inspired Sebastian Currier’s Verge for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1997). Oddly, this was the second day in a row that this reviewer heard the widely admired Currier, whom I knew primarily from Night Time Suite for violin and harp and Vocalissimus, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s take from the night before. Currier writes very idiomatically for voice and instruments, and, judging from these two pieces, has quite a sense of humor. I now understand his popularity among musicians. Verge, like Vocalissimus has many very short movements: almost too fast, almost too slow, almost too mechanical, almost too dark, almost too light, almost too fractured, almost too much, almost too little, almost too calm. This reviewer was really amused these miniatures, and impressed throughout. The serene pianissimo ending left one in in a state of deep tranquility.

After intermission came two pieces in every violist’s tool kit: Martinu’s Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola(1947) and Mozart’s glorious Trio in E-flat Major for Piano, Clarinet and Viola, a.k.a. “Kegelstatt Trio”K 498 (1786)—both exceedingly beautifully written and performed. Violinist Itamar Zorman, whom I had heard years ago in a concert with Sivan Magen, is tremendously gifted player. Violist Guy Ben-Ziony tossed off really difficult licks in the Mozart with relaxed insouciance. Reminiscent of Dvořák, Martinu’s 3 movements sounded as if he wrote the set for this unbeatable duo.

Martinu’s Three Madrigals (1947) took its inspiration from a performance of the famous Mozart Duos by the brother-sister duo Joseph and Lilian Fuchs. Martinu had suffered a near-fatal fall at Tanglewood, where he was teaching in 1946. His injuries forced him to change his composing practices, and he began to earnestly compose shorter works for fewer instruments. This piece was an instant hit, combining (according to the excellent program notes by Sandra Hyslop). It encompassed his great loves for English madrigals, polyphonic vocal works, American jazz, colorful harmonies and rhythms. The audience loved this brilliant performance, clapping enthusiastically after the first madrigal, and again at the end.

And yet, it was Mozart’s “Kegelstatt Trio” (1786) that stole our hearts. Clarinetist Tibi Cziger and violist Guy Ben-Ziony gave outstanding interpretations, and pianist Assaff Weisman shared refined elegance. Something very special happens when friends, who happen to be virtuosi, collaborate over decades.

White Days by Israeli composer Shlomo Ydov (arranged by Inbar Sharet with poetry by Leah Goldberg) served as the magical, dreamy and well-earned encore. The fabulous Israeli Chamber Project should return to these parts soon.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I also loved the concert. Thanks for the elegant review.

    Comment by Janet Stotsky — February 26, 2024 at 2:31 pm

  2. I saw them perform this program last week in NYC – riveting and inspiring. Informative and lovely review, thank you.

    Comment by Judy McWilliams — February 27, 2024 at 12:45 pm

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