We had a preview Sunday afternoon at Sunset Center Theater as we heard the exciting ensemble group, “Israeli Chamber Project,” in a concert presented by the Carmel Music Society. The Society’s President, Anne Thorp, announced from the stage that the concert we were hearing today would be repeated on Wednesday, February 1, at the group’s New York City Carnegie Hall debut in Weill Recital Hall.
The members of the Israeli Chamber Project we heard today were clarinetist Tibi Cziger, cellist Michael Katz, harpist Sivan Magen, pianist Assaff Weisman and violinist Itamar Zorman. It is interesting that some members of the group are based in Israel, some in Europe and some in the United States. The cellist heard today, Michael Katz, was substituting at the last moment for Michal Korman who was ailing and unable to travel.
The clarinetist Tibi Cziger holds a special place in the hearts of local concertgoers, since he was one of the principal prizewinners in the Carmel Music Society’s Instrumental Competition a few years ago. All of us who attended the competition that year remember that Cziger was the outstanding audience favorite.
The program on this occasion was kind of a sandwich, the bread being two staples of the chamber music repertoire, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1 in C Minor and the Brahms Clarinet Trio in A Minor, Op. 114, which opened and closed the concert. We were expecting bold and exciting playing, and we were not to be disappointed.
In the Shostakovich, the opening cello solo by Michael Katz was outstanding and set the tone for what followed. Pianist Weisman showed himself to be nimble and ultra precise as he maneuvered around the keyboard with disarming ease. Violinist Zorman’s fine playing was every bit as masterful as that of his ensemble partners, and the total performance was quite satisfying. The Brahms Trio, a good deal longer and more extended than the Shostakovich, had its moments of heavy seriousness and its moments of brilliant excitement. Clarinetist Cziger was fabulous in his ability to bring clarity and stylish intensity to everything he played.
In retrospect, it was the inner part of the sandwich that turned out to be the most absorbing part of the program, for it consisted of works most of us rarely hear. Especially fascinating was “Night Time” for harp and violin by Sebastian Currier, in which harpist Magen and violinist Zorman created a magic web of mysterious and exciting sounds. In its third section, “Vespers,” we heard harp playing like we have never heard before — almost like a duet between two harps. Violinist Zorman achieved amazing clarity in the musical line, even at extremely soft dynamic levels. The fourth section, “Nightwind” was no slouch either, and both players demonstrated a dazzling virtuosity in its fleet performance.
Bartok’s Contrasts, for clarinet, violin and piano was one of the most intriguing works on the program. Written for violinist Josef Szigeti and clarinetist Benny Goodman, it was full of jazzy effects and totally delightful. The best was yet to come: “Three Songs Without Words” by Paul Ben-Haim for harp and clarinet. In its opening Arioso we heard clarinetist Cziger achieve amazing control of tone and beautiful shaping of phrases. In the Ballade that followed, we heard a fabulous harp solo and great repartee between harp and clarinet. In the concluding Sephardic Song, we heard Cziger achieve sounds as subtle and close to the human voice as you could possibly imagine.
Wow! Well, we wish these musicians all the best in their New York City debut.