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Encores and Curtain Calls

Encores & Curtain Calls: From Israel, a trio of contrasts

“I wish to sing of my interior visions with the naïve candor of a child.”

— Claude Debussy

Brattleboro continues its rich legacy of top-notch choral and chamber music in the coming weeks; first up, an appearance by the Israeli ensemble the Goldstein-Peled-Fiterstein Trio, Friday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m., at Center Congregational Church. It is the final concert in the Brattleboro Music Center’s 2012-13 Chamber Concert Series.

The group is unusual in its composition of piano, cello and clarinet — played by Alon Goldstein, Amit Peled, and Alex Fiterstein respectively. The usual chamber combinations of string quartet, piano trio (piano, violin and cello) and piano quartet (piano, violin, viola and cello) yield a much more homogeneous, less contrasted sound palette, which is good for group effect but less optimal for clear separation of parts.

The combination of cello and clarinet with piano, however, sets up striking contrasts in several ways. Each of the three instruments achieves its sound — technically known as “tone color” — in a completely different way: the piano by the percussion (the striking of hammers on strings), the cello by friction of a bow drawn across strings and the clarinet through wind conduction through a vibrating reed. So, no matter how incestuous the writing for this combination may aspire to become, it is virtually impossible to ever confuse the sound of any one of these instruments for one of its companions.

This necessarily results in a texture through which each of the instruments projects as clearly as a bell, even for the uninitiated listener. This is not nearly so much the case with the typical string quartet, in which the layering of similar tone colors can congeal into an indistinguishable mass.

The clarinet and cello are further distinguished, one from the other, by hanging out in quite contrasting tessituras — or natural pitch regions; the clarinet rising from a bass note of C-sharp or D under middle C and extending upward some three-plus octaves into airy stratospheres, whereas the much more sonorous cello reaches down to the C more than an octave lower than the clarinet’s bottom note.

And, finally, there is the dynamic of the unique musical personalities of the three forces at work: the cello tends to sing with a dark, throbbing fervor — even when playing relatively innocuous melodies — whereas the clarinet has been prized for its coolness, clarity and lightness of spirit (think of the opening of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” or the clarinet concerto of Mozart). Meanwhile, in and through the texture, there is the rich ambience of the piano’s cohesive latticework, knitting the total sound into a unified field.

Among the trio’s offerings are Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op 11 of 1798, 20th century Hebraic composer Ernest Bloch’s “From Jewish Life” of 1924, Claude Debussy’s “Premiere Rhapsody” of 1909, Listz’s “Paraphrase on Verdi’s Aida” (Sacred Dance and Finale Duet) of 1877, and Brahms’ Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Cello in A minor, Op. 114 of 1891.

Perhaps least known but most deserving of exploration are the Bloch, Debussy and Liszt pieces, works in which each of the soloists respectively gets to shine: Peled in the soulful Bloch, Fiterstein in the mystical Debussy and Goldstein in the virtuosic Liszt.

Bloch consistently created music of high emotional charge, much of it informed by the cantorial tradition, in which the voice peals forth in an inspired, yet almost pained, outcry, at one and the same time grievous and ecstatic. As such, one often finds oneself, when hearing a Bloch creation, feeling as if one were in attendance at a Jewish sacred service, with an abiding sense of ritual and ceremony.

At the same time, in the midst of simple, sustained sonorities that harken back to the drones of ancient lyres and viols, Bloch will contrast these against long, undulating melismatic melody lines — that is, lines in which various notes “wobble” upward and downward to their ancillary or neighbor tones, imitating the instability of the human voice when under extreme emotional duress.

The already hyper-emotional cello has a field day with this sort of music, for it has the capacity to catch not only the 12 “legal” or “legitimate” half-tones of the western chromatic scale but also the intervening quarter-tones between thes; it can “bend” and “flex” the pitches to suit its fluctuating mood swings.

To a certain extent, the clarinet can also contrive to do this, a capacity widely exploited in the popular Jewish music of the Klezmer tradition of the Yiddish community.

If the Bloch is soulful, dark and heavy of spirit, then the Debussy by contrast is mystical, ethereal and spiritually airborne, a quietly rapturous, almost diaphanous, reverie that wafts in, hovers briefly and vanishes like a fugitive vision. Indeed, so potent was the French master’s gift of creating charged atmospheres that the film composer Dmitri Tiompkin, when called upon to create a score to the magical 1946 fantasy “Portrait of Jennie,” from the Robert Nathan’s book of the same name, opted to make the score entirely of Debussy masterworks, the “Rhapsody” chief among them. His choice turned out to be inspired and the effect of Debussy’s Muses on the film narrative was profound.

Now’s your chance to hear it in its own right.

The Liszt piece is an homage to Verdi’s thematic prowess and like almost all Liszt’s piano works, inevitably finds its way into the virtuosic regions and manages, before its end, to call almost as much — or maybe more — attention to the prowess of Liszt than that of Verdi. Drawn from themes from Verdi’s immortal “Aida” — a drama centered in the exoticism of Egypt, Liszt takes advantage of the drama and mystery implicit in Verdi’s original and runs with it. A tour de force that shamelessly displays the pianist as showman.

And, of course, with the Beethoven and Brahms as heavyweight musical anchors to these three unusual offerings, it’s unlikely that anyone — whatever their genre-persuasions – will go home wanting after this recital.

Tickets are $30, $20, $10.

802-257-4523, www.bmcvt.org.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at
josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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