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Melting Rhapsody

Jack Liebeck and Danny Driver's 'Hebrew Melody' recital,
plus a recital by David Aaron Carpenter


A beautiful tone, stylish technique and profoundly expressive interpretative approach were the qualities on display in a superb recital at Central Synagogue, Hallam Street, London UK on Wednesday 12 November 2014, given by the young British violinist Jack Liebeck. Liebeck, who recently released a CD of Kreisler encores, has carved a busy career including Artistic Directorships, film music credits, chamber music, and a Royal Academy of Music professorship, all of which has taken flight since his Wigmore Hall debut in 2002. Here partnered with responsive virtuosity by Danny Driver at the piano, Liebeck regaled a large gathering in a programme entitled Hebrew Melody, in the second of a series of seven monthly concerts held in one of London's most historic and acoustically generous synagogues, themed around music of the Jewish diaspora.

The title Hebrew Melody derives from Joseph Achron's famous miniature, composed, as anecdotes have it, in a brief half hour in 1911 at the time he joined the Society of Jewish Folk Music in St Petersburg. As Liebeck mentioned in his introduction, this was a favourite of the virtuoso Josef Hassid, though it has become better known in recent times, and Liebeck showed a special affinity for the melting rhapsody of the melody, the magical effect of its repeated note motif and rocking patterns redolent of Yiddish song. Yet what was especially surprising about his ravishing performance was the connections made with the piece played just before, the theme tune from Schindler's List by John Williams, which seemed to share a similar repertoire of motifs and harmonies, notably the motif of rocking fifths. Liebeck played the hit song from Spielberg's film with a refreshing lack of sentimentality and impressive musicality, bringing to it the dynamic shading and subtle phrasing one expects from classic repertoire.

Jack Liebeck and Danny Driver at the Hebrew Melody concert at London's Central Synagogue. Photo © 2014 Phillip Cohen
Jack Liebeck and Danny Driver at the Hebrew Melody concert at London's Central Synagogue. Photo © 2014 Phillip Cohen. Click on the image for higher resolution

Earlier, in the Baal Shem Suite by Bloch, Liebeck and Driver produced a reading of rich resonance and cantorial fervour. Liebeck drives his phrases strongly with strong emphatic bow strokes; when he lets go his tone is ravishing, silvery, thick and vibrant. In the Bloch he explored the ravishing colours of the upper register against the impressionistic textures which flowed in Driver's skilful hands. The initial Brahms A major Sonata offered an inspiring overture, enhanced by Danny Driver's eloquent partnering of the solo lines with rich piano sonorities. The concert concluded with scintillating virtuosity and zest in the form of Mendelssohn's youthful Sonata in F, rediscovered by Menuhin and here played with enthralling colour and lyricism. The first movement flowed in true chamber musical ensemble, themes and accompaniments shared and swapped, sprightly classically shaped motifs projected brightly. The substantial first movement drew applause in its wake; the refined sensitivity of the slow movement gave way to a racy finale in which scalar passages were crystalline in articulation and both players in absolute confluence, all the way to the riveting climax. A short Kreisler lollipop added a cherry to the already delicious recital in which Liebeck's eighteenth century Guadagnini radiated a sumptuous and sweet sonic glow.

From left to right: Jack Liebeck, Danny Driver and Steven Leas at the Hebrew Melody concert. Photo © 2014 Phillip Cohen
From left to right: Jack Liebeck, Danny Driver and Steven Leas at the Hebrew Melody concert. Photo © 2014 Phillip Cohen. Click on the image for higher resolution

The 2014-5 series Music of the Jewish Diaspora presented jointly by Inverne Price Music Consultancy and Central Synagogue, Hallam Street, one of London's oldest synagogues, founded in 1857, under the guidance of their musical director Cantor Steven Leas, explores works of Jewish significance in often surprising contexts. The series was previewed in a stirring performance by the young American violist David Aaron Carpenter at the Central Synagogue London on 9 July 2014. It was, as he wittily put it, 'a family affair', since his ensemble, the soloists of the Salome Chamber Orchestra, features his brother Sean and sister Lauren as violinists, with Lauren occasionally swapping her instrument with David Aaron as soloist. Together with Hiro Matsuyo (cello) and bassist Yanni Burton, the group gave sparkling accounts of new works by two young New Yorkers: Oran Eldor's syncopated, arresting version of Sephardic Prayer contrasted with the poetic delicacy of Alexey Shor's Last Penny, while the ensemble propelled Shor's Semi-Canonical Great Feud, full of rivalrous dialogues, and Jacob Gade's slinky Tango Jalousie, with vitality and zest.

Perhaps the echoes of the Jewish diaspora were best conveyed in three familiar gems in which Carpenter's ravishing legato and portamenti stood out: Kreisler's popular Liebesleid, a transcription of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words Op 19 No 2, and the Romance from Wieniawski's Concerto No 2. Yet tonal richness was amply evident even in the foot-stomping exhilaration of Piazzolla, and the Murka Variations by Eldor and Shor, a kind of rock-inspired take on the baroque chaconne. Clearly Carpenter's magnetic charisma coupled with innate musical understanding signal a unique artistry and the ability to win over audiences. Immediately off to Schloss Elmau for his next appearance, Carpenter was already preparing his next, highly original, recording project: three 'Four Seasons': Vivaldi, Piazzolla (Four Season of Buenos Aires) and a new set by the Shor-Eldor team — a release one awaits with anticipation.

Copyright © 19 November 2014 Malcolm Miller,
London UK


The first autumn concert of the 2014-5 series Music of the Jewish Diaspora on 10 September 2014 was given by the notable pianist Inon Barnatan, including a premiere of a new work composed for him by Avner Dorman. The next concert in the series will be given by Raphael Wallfisch with John Yorke: cello and piano music by Ernest Bloch, including a seldom played early sonata (10 December 2014). Premieres of music by Harriet Cohen will form a fascinating highlight of pianist Mark Bebbington's recital alongside music by Bliss and Gershwin (4 February 2015). Lara Downes' Exiles Café features works by émigrés Weill, Korngold and Martinů, alongside Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Gershwin (25 March 2015). Finally, in Three Worlds, Avi Avital (mandolin) and Ray Chen (violin) combine Bach with Chinese and Jewish folk music. Details of these and other events, and of how to book are available on the events page of the Central Synagogue London website.








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