Israeli viola concerto makes strongest impact in Haifa Symphony program at Kravis
The city of Haifa lacks the religious significance of Jerusalem or the international glamour of Tel Aviv. But Israel’s third-largest city is the country’s industrial heart, home to oil refineries, chemical works, the nation’s main naval base and the world-renowned Technion institute of technology.
The city also has a more-then-respectable orchestra, and on Tuesday the Haifa Symphony Orchestra performed at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach under principal guest conductor Boguslaw Dawidow, as part of its first tour of the United States. The orchestra has a rich, full sound, if with a few rough edges, and a lively, energetic style.
The surprise highlight of a concert bookended by familiar works of Mozart and Tchaikovsky was the melodic, immediately engaging Melodies for Mount Carmel, a viola concerto by the Israeli composer Uri Bracha performed by soloist Avshalom Sarid. The work was inspired by the northern Israeli mountains in which the composer was born and where the city of Haifa stands.
Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe this music, which sounds at one moment like Brahms, at another like Bach and is full of Middle Eastern-sounding rhythms and harmonies. But it’s held together by the composer’s gift for long melodic lines and rhythmic punch, as well as a strong sense of regional atmosphere. Opening with a restless melody and harmonic sequences that could have been from the 19th century, the concerto was full of melodies, with runs and arpeggios that led to more melodies. As it progressed, gaining rhythmic momentum, the concerto’s Middle Eastern profile became more prominent.
Sarid had just the right style for this piece, warmly emotional, with long, broad bow strokes and an improvisatory style, yet with a strong rhythmic sense that prevented the music from becoming shapeless.
The concert opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, and here the orchestra was at its least successful. The opening theme felt under-expressed and uninflected. And throughout the first movement, strings didn’t play with the incisiveness and agility to bring off fast, complex passages. Unlike some performances of Mozart and Haydn, in which conductors reduce the size of the orchestra, this one had the full complement of strings on stage, and this may have contributed to the mushy, gray texture.
More successful was a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6. From the ominous, atmospheric opening to the big, sweeping melodies in the strings, the orchestra and conductor seemed much more in their element in this broad, Romantic symphony. If there were a few rough edges and lack of ensemble cohesion in the third movement, Dawidow whipped up ample excitement as the music pressed forward with more volume and momentum. In the last movement Dawidow doing a fine job pacing the dying melody.
There were two encores. First, violist Sarid returned to the stage for John Williams’ Theme from Schindler’s List. If this music is sad on the violin, it’s heartrending on the viola, particularly with Sarid’s impassioned style. Not wanting to end on a downer, and in tribute to the orchestra’s host country, they then launched with gusto into Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, with the brass section rising at the end for an extra blast of sound.
The Haifa Symphony Orchestra performs again 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Kravis Center. On the program is Weber’s Euryanthe Overture, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Roman Rabinovich and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. kravis.org, 561-832-7469.
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Wed Jan 29, 2014
at 10:41 am