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Lilya Zilberstein, Israeli Chamber Project

Dangerous Beethoven, and a distinctive young voice from Israel

January 24, 2011

Musical Bridges Around the World presented a generous twofer, Jan 23. in McAllister Auditorium. The pianist Lilya Zilberstein opened the afternoon with a demanding mini-recital of 19th-century staples, in advance of her return to the San Antonio Symphony this weekend in Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 ; and five members of the youthful Israeli Chamber Project followed with a diverse program that included an ambitious new work by young Israeli composer Amit Gilutz.

Ms. Zilberstein brought a gentle sway, a very flexible tempo and lively phrasing to Frederic Chopin’s Barcarole in F-sharp. In Book 2 of Johannes Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, she delivered a dash of wit, a wide color palette and an interesting way of propelling the line with her left hand.

Ms. Zilberstein’s account of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata was not one to please control freaks, but then neither is the sonata itself, one of Beethoven's most rambunctious. The pianist gave full vent to the outer allegros’ violent rifts and the turbulent tumbling of their frantic runs. She declined to romanticize the lyrical theme of the middle movement, and in most of its variations she stressed angularity over a smooth line. This was a fearless, on-the-edge, dangerous performance. It was dotted with a few wrong notes -- but even they were right in spirit.

The Israeli Chamber Project was represented in San Antonio by clarinetist Tibi Cziger, cellist Michal Korman, harpist Sivan Magen, pianist Assaff Weisman and violinist Itamar Zorman. They proved a wonderfully engaging troupe, notable as much for the palpable joy they brought to everything they played as for their first-class individual and collective artistry.
All five came together for only one piece, Gilutz’s “Zlila.” Mr. Gilutz, born in 1983, comes with an impressive musical pedigree: He is studying with both Steven Stucky and Roberto Sierra, two highly distinguished composers, at Cornell.

“Zlila” depends on atmospherics and absolute sound rather than on melody or traditional forms of development. The texture is generally spare, and there are long stretches of near-stasis punctuated by highly active eddies. The seeming stasis is never really static, however, because Mr. Gilutz brings to this music a fine ear for shadings of instrumental color and shifting harmonic regions. The composer calls for a prepared piano and both extended and conventional technique from the other players -- the result sometimes recalls the electronic landscapes of Varese and Subotnik. This is a highly disciplined work, demanding attention all the way to its eerily quiet conclusion.

The troupe opened in more familiar territory with Ernest Bloch’s Three Nocturnes for piano trio -- one delicate, one lyrical, one motoric and intense. Israeli compose Paul Ben-Haim’s Three Songs Without Words for harp and clarinet were appealing but conservative pieces in a style influenced by Middle Eastern idioms.

The closer was Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts” for violin, clarinet and piano -- originally composed for Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman.  Mr. Zorman’s substantial, richly grained violin sound, Mr. Cziger’s clean, fluid playing on clarinet and Mr. Weisman’s crisp pianism were consistently pleasurable, as was their way of throwing themselves into the music, especially in the wild finale.

Ms. Korman distinguished herself in the Bloch Nocturnes with limpid tone on cello, and Mr. Magen’s snappy, muscular work on harp contribute greatly to the effectiveness of the new piece by Gilutz.

Mike Greenberg