A Harp Primer Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

United StatesUnited States  Schumann, Renié, Hochman, Dvořák: Israeli Chamber Project, Merkin Concert Hall, New York City, 10.9.2015 (BH)

Schumann: Märchenerzählungen, Op. 132 (1853)
Henriette Renié: Trio for Harp, Violin and Cello (1910)
Gilad Hochman: Slightly Disturbed (2006)
Dvořák: Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 87 (1889)

Israeli Chamber Project: Tibi Cziger (clarinet), Carmit Zori (violin), Dov Scheindlin (viola), Michal Korman (cello), Sivan Magen (harp), Assaff Weisman (piano)

If nothing else, this deeply satisfying evening at Merkin Concert Hall by the Israeli Chamber Project—just in time for the Jewish New Year—would have been worth it solely for the primer on Henriette Renié (1875-1956), a child harp prodigy who entered the Paris Conservatoire at age nine, and later became a teacher and composer. Renié grew frustrated with the harp’s limited repertoire—not to mention its reputation as an instrument for dilettantes. But her creative time fell during a period when women were not encouraged to pursue music composition—much less taken seriously in the field. We should be grateful that wonders like her Trio for Harp, Violin and Cello even exist.

After genial introductory words from Sivan Magen, ICP’s astounding harpist, he plunged into Renié’s virtuosic fantasyland with Carmit Zori on violin, and Michal Korman on cello—all showing startling crispness and intensity. The four florid movements are challenging, with a galloping finale that Dvořák might have coveted. Amid loud audience applause at the end, the man in front of me turned and smiled, shaking his head in disbelief.

The evening’s other revelation was Slightly Disturbed (2006) by Gilad Hochman, a young composer originally from Israel and now living in Berlin. He describes the roughly eight-minute work as a “monodrama,” and indeed, its three players—violin, cello, and clarinet—seem to represent a single mind, but one constantly interrupting itself. Tibi Cziger is ICP’s fluent clarinetist, and with Zori and Korman, seemed unfazed by Hochman’s unexpected rhythms and odd timbres. It’s heartening to hear a recent work played with such utter confidence.

Despite Schumann’s familiarity, my hunch is that few listeners have heard his Märchenerzählungen (“Fairy Tales”), written for the unusual combination of clarinet, piano—and viola. (I hadn’t.) The superb Dov Scheindlin was joined by Cziger and Assaff Weisman, the group’s incisive pianist, all united in assiduous attention to intonation and mood, especially in the dreamy third section.

Weisman revealed his true mettle in Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 2, navigating the formidable piano role in an artful—and entertaining—dialogue with his string colleagues. Though the cello line in the slow movement is a quintessential example of the composer’s seductive melodic skills, it was the jet-propelled, perfectly timed and balanced finale that made me think, now that’s how you end a concert.

Bruce Hodges






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