ROUSING MUSIC MAKING BY KALICHSTEIN AND
JERUSALEM SYMPHONY


By Lawrence Budmen

The piano music of Ludwig Van Beethoven can be interpreted in many different ways by musicians of diverse backgrounds. Intensely brilliant fireworks are favored by Russian virtuosi. There is the granite like intellectual approach of the great Artur Schnabel and Richard Goode, which stresses the music's architecture. Lyricism and warmth characterized the performances of Claudio Arrau.

Pianist Joseph Kalichstein is a noble exponent of the Arrau tradition. On January 21, 2003 at Miami Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater, he gave a beautifully lyrical performance of Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No.4,"Opus 58 with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a concert presented by the Concert Association of Florida. From the very first notes the music had a wonderful singing line. Kalichstein's playing had a rhapsodic quality. At times it may have sounded more like Chopin than Beethoven, but this performance's romantic glow was irresistible. The sensitivity of Kalichstein's playing brought coherence to the first movement Allegro moderato, which can lack continuity in lesser hands. He chose the extremely difficult cadenza by Schnabel. Here he proved that he has fleet fingered power to spare when needed. He dashed off the pyrotechnics with brilliance and verve. The dramatic dialogue between piano and orchestra in the second movement Andante con moderato had the exquisite subtlety of chamber music. (Kalichstein is one of the great chamber music players.) The soft nuances of the piano contrasted with the orchestra's stern interjections. Beethoven's discourse became a strong humanist musical statement in Kalichstein's hands. He brought lilt and charm to Rondo: Vivace finale. The music seemed to dance from the keyboard. If he dropped a few notes, it hardly mattered in the totality of the performance. The beauty of Kalichstein's playing was always at the service of the composer, rather than a vehicle of flamboyant self display.

Conductor Lawrence Foster was a full collaborator in the performance of the Beethoven concerto. He skillfully highlighted the shades of light and dark that run through the music. The dialogue between winds and strings had clarity and musical weight. Soloist and conductor were always were working as one. The entire performance had a beautiful autumnal quality. 

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra is a venerable cultural institution. Founded in the 1940's, the orchestra is under the jurisdiction of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The ensemble is not on the same world class level as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The string section is excellent - precise, full toned, and resonant. The woodwinds are variable, while the brass section has serious deficiencies. In Dvorak's "Symphony No.9 in E Minor," Opus95, the orchestra's strengths and weaknesses were center stage and clearly audible. The principal flute had intonation problems and sounded weak in the prominent solo of the first movement. The brass sounded raucous throughout the performance. At the beginning of the second movement Largo, the horns produced sour tones and missed notes. The English horn (which plays the famous melody of the Largo) had a constricted, reedy Central European sound.

Despite less than perfect orchestral execution, there was much to enjoy in the performance. Lawrence Foster is a very gifted conductor. He has had a long and successful career in Europe. He brought vigor and sparkle to the Dvorak symphony. The lovely way the strings caressed the reprise of the flute's theme in the Allegro molto was striking. Foster's faster than usual tempo in the Largo was highly effective. The Czech folk dance character of the third movement Molto vivace was strongly characterized. The conductor brought real contrast to the movement's second theme and trio by holding the orchestra back just slightly. The Allegro con fuoco was a whirlwind finale. Foster brought freshness and charm to this often played symphony.

The concert also featured "Scherzos and Serenades," a 1988 work by the Israeli composer Yinam Leef. Leef is an Associate Professor of Composition at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Like many works by academic composers, the music plays with serial techniques. It lacks a strong original profile and is not particularly distinguished. The composer could not have asked for a more dedicated advocate than Foster. He brought clarity and orchestral color to the often dense instrumental texture.

The orchestra's most satisfying performances of the evening were the opening anthems and the encores. Foster opened the program with vigorous performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" and the Israeli national anthem "Hatikvah." For encores he first offered a delightful performance of "Wedding Dance," by Jacques Press - complete with klezmer like riffs on the woodwinds. The program concluded with Brahms's "Hungarian Dance No.1", played with real Magyar flavor and heavy rubato on the strings. 

Foster remains a compelling musical interpreter. Despite musical imperfections, the concert featured some rousing music making by a talented conductor and a patrician soloist. 
 


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