Varied programme to mark Taliban murder of a Jewish/American journalist

A programme of works for cello and double bass, by Jewish and Israeli composers, plus Bach, Rossini and the Klezmer Trio for cello, viola and bass by Ross Harris; in memory of Daniel Pearl, American Jewish journalist murdered by the Taliban

Inbal Megiddo (cello), Paul Altomari (double bass), Donald Maurice (viola)

Myers Hall, Wellington Jewish Community Centre, Webb St.

Sunday, 28 October, 3pm

The Internet gives the following explanation of the occasion for this concert.  “Daniel Pearl World Music Days was created in response to the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl at the hands of extremists in Karachi, Pakistan. Danny’s family and friends came together to work towards a more humane world, forming the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and innovative communications.

“Danny was a talented musician who joined musical groups in every community in which he lived, leaving behind a long trail of musician-friends spanning the entire world. Commemorating Danny’s October 10th birthday, World Music Days uses the universal language of music to encourage fellowship across cultures and build a platform for “Harmony for Humanity.”

First on this intriguing programme, after a brief speech introducing World Music Days,  was Kaddish (prayer of mourning) by Joachim Stutschewsky, a twentieth-century Israeli composer.  Naturally, it was a rather sad piece (for solo cello) – intense, strong, and even abrasive at times.  A repeated motif in a minor key was somewhat modal in character; it subsided into a regretful mood.

Next was a piece based on a song for peace, also for unaccompanied cello.  Unfortunately, Inbal Meggido’s spoken introductions were too quiet and too fast to be readily heard and understood.  Lament by Hannah Levy was written for Meggido by the contemporary Israeli composer.  Its very strong opening was like cries of pain, and was very eloquently played.  The music utilised a very wide span of the cello’s enormous range, from deep bass to high treble.  A wide compass of techniques was employed too, from biting the bow stridently into the strings to lightly skipping over them.  The work described deep sorrow rather than ‘mere’ melancholy.  At times it expressed wailing, but came to a brief calm towards the end.

We now moved to something familiar: Bach’s Suite no.1 in G major for solo cello.  The suites are the cellist’s Bible – or should we say Old Testament in this case?  The Prelude made a promising beginning, although I found the slurring between bass notes to the higher notes in the chords are little too much.  The tempos may have had something to do with it; the movement was taken somewhat faster than one often hears it.

A very lithe and supple Allemande followed, exhibiting lovely tone.  Some notes were touched very lightly; the effect was most pleasing.  The Courante was brisk and lively, but every note was present.  The slow dance that originated in Spanish America, the Sarabande, was thoughtful, rich and deep, demonstrating the cello’s sonorous capabilities to the full, while the following Minuets were animated,                                             yet played with plenty of feeling and beautiful phrasing.

The Gigue that ended the Suite included considerable contrasts in the fast dance.  These dancers were energetic and got around all over the place.

After the interval, Donald Maurice joined his viola to the cello in Beethoven’s curiously named ‘Eyeglass’ duo.  It was thus named, Maurice told us in an excellent introduction, for the bespectacled musician friends of Beethoven to whom the piece was dedicated.  In imitation, both players donned ‘eyeglasses’.

The duo consisted of an allegro followed by minuet and trio.  The work featured delightful interweavings, evocative of a conversation between the two dedicatees.  There was body in the playing and variety of tone.  Beethoven introduced some fun into his writing – pizzicato passages followed by glissandi.  The allegro was a difficult movement, resulting in some slight inaccuracies of intonation.

The minuet had echoes of the theme of the allegro, but then modulated in novel ways.  The conversations became more serious and complex, and were completed with an unexpected ending.

Yet another unfamiliar work: Rossini’s Duo for cello and double bass (titled simply ‘Duetto’ in Grove), in which Meggido was joined by her husband Paul Altomari, principal double bass player in the Vector Wellington Orchestra, who gave a good introduction to the work, which remained published until 1968.  One so seldom hears a double bass as soloist or duoist, that it was interesting to hear that the sound was not only deeper but also less direct than that of the cello.

The work featured some operatic-style themes, but overall it was not great music, though quite a work-out for the performers, especially for the bass player.  In the second movement, the bass played pizzicato while the cello had a strong melody; the third movement, loud at first, appeared to be a set of extraverted variations upon a dance-like theme.  A bright presto ended this jolly item.

Continuing the operatic theme, the players next gave us Georg Goltermann’s Souvenirs de Bellini.  Goltermann lived from 1824 to 1898.  The double bass played a rather dull accompaniment while the cello delivered operatic melodies – Meggido had a lot of playing to do before the double bass reversed things, playing its own melody, with the cello playing the accompanying passages.  Then the roles were reversed again: the cello played virtuosic passages, seemingly several parts at once.

The final piece was Klezmer Trio for viola, cello and double bass, by Wellington composer Ross Harris, who was present at the concert.  Wikipedia has this to say about Klezmer: “The genre has its origins in Eastern Europe. In the United States the genre morphed considerably as Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who arrived between 1880 and 1924… met and assimilated American jazz.”

The instrumentation we heard is not listed in the Wikipedia article – but like all folk-based music, klezmer can evolve, especially when in the hands of composers who take it up and write around its melodies, styles and traditions.

The work opened with pizzicato from the two lower instruments and a melody on viola.  There was much off-beat rhythm; at one stage Altomari alternately hit the strings and played pizzicato on them.  A winsome melody from the cello intervened, then it was back to the viola, with the rhythm sustained by the double bass.  A change of key ensued; the interaction between cello and viola had a very Middle Eastern sound to me.

Some of the melodies were quite rhapsodic, their portamento technique assisting in the resulting sound being quite different from those of Western classical music.  The music returned to a very rhythmic, dancing sequence, then all the instruments knitted together for an exciting syncopated ending.

This was indeed an interesting and varied programme, mainly of unexplored music.


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