An impressive lineup of spectacular artists from Estonia, Israel, Germany, Russia and Turkey opened İstanbul’s 2015-2016 classical season during the first week of October. In four different concert venues much of the programming was basically traditional, with three programs offering late 18th century fare and one program venturing backwards to the Medieval-Renaissance era.
In the traditional classical category, the Albert Long Hall series at Boğaziçi University and İstanbul Recitals in the Seed at Sakıp Sabancı Museum, each offered solo concerts by two superb artists: German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott and Palestinian-Israeli pianist Saleem Ashkar, who performed Bach and Beethoven, respectively. The Monday evening chamber music series at Kadıköy’s Süreyya Opera House featured a “Schubertiade” — a program devoted to the music of Austrian composer Franz Schubert.
Representing 200 years between the 15th and 17th centuries, the Hortus Musicus early music ensemble from Tallinn, Estonia, performed Renaissance and Baroque gems at the Naval Museum (a debut of this venue for classical music) on Oct. 2. Just behind the ensemble was a spectacular scene: Two ornate replicas of Ottoman ships from this same time period loomed impressively, adding more magic to the ancient music.
Presented by adventurous entrepreneur Hakan Erdoğan, who often chooses unusual places to host music events, the Estonian group, under the direction of Andres Mustonen, delighted the crowd with spirited renditions of vocal and instrumental works by German, Italian, English and Spanish composers who lived between 1460 and 1713.
Beginning with a suite of dances from Michael Praetorius’ “Terpsichore” (1612), the nine-member group, playing instruments like the shawm, recorders, shalmei and dulcian in addition to violin, harpsichord and percussion, gave stirring and festive renditions of works by Monteverdi, Castello, Morley, Purcell, Corelli, Ortiz and Encina with great spirit — and a little updating here and there. Resident arranger (and excellent baritone) Tonis Kaumann spiced up a few pieces with his own arrangements that incorporated jazzy bass lines, Stephane Grappelli-esque violin improvs for Mustonen (who led the group as he played violin), percussive effects, and zippy tempos that kept the audience snapping and clapping.
An effervescent Schubert evening
A Schubertiade is a long tradition in the Germanic countries, and one that honors this composer’s vast oeuvre (composed in a short lifetime — he died at 31) encompassing numerous song cycles, solo sonatas, small ensemble works and many orchestral works which include nine symphonies.
For the occasion at Süreyya on Oct. 5, a masterful sextet was organized by violinist Cihat Aşkın, who was joined by pianist Cana Gürmen, violist Çetin Aydar, Russian cellist Konstantin Manaev, and bassist Burak Marlalı. “We chose to do a Schubertiade because chamber music, especially Schubert’s, gives such a warm feeling — like having a cup of tea with friends,” Aşkın told the audience. The sold-out audience evidently agreed, as their warm reception of the performance was a clear sign of enjoyment of the program which included two delightful chestnuts: the “Arpeggione” Sonata for cello and piano and the famous “Trout” quintet.
Manaev’s performance of the sonata was a thing of wonder, with effortless mastery and technical security, and in the quintet with Marlalı, their consummate ensemble skills were a joy to watch. Pianist Gürmen did a yeoman’s work all evening as the able partner, giving elegant buoyancy to all of the virtuosic and demanding works.
Bach and Britten at Boğaziçi
Müller-Schott, despite fighting a bad cold, took the stage at Albert Long Hall on Oct. 7 and gave his all to the musical mysteries of J.S. Bach’s solo cello suites, alongside a similar suite by Benjamin Britten, taking the audience on a satisfying and blissful journey.
The Bach solo cello suites, No. 2 and 3, are muscular and mathematical within their melodic worlds, and Britten’s solo suite No. 2 is a thorny conundrum of playful and dissonant moods, albeit a nice contrast to Bach. Written in 1967 for Mstislav Rostropovich, Britten’s mid-century experimentation stretched the lyrical capabilities of the cello while giving a couple of humorous tips of the hat to Bach. Müller-Schott’s extraordinary devotion to detail in his performance of Britten helped those first-time listeners grasp its mysteries, too.
This artist’s assured, inspired and thoroughly grounded performance of such a challenging unaccompanied program portends a prodigious beginning to the 19th season of the Albert Long Hall concerts, and one that audiences will be talking about for years to come.
Ashkar at The Seed
İstanbul Recitals’ ninth season got off to a thrilling start with pianist Saleem Ashkar, who shook up The Seed with an all-Beethoven program on Oct. 8.
The young but duly seasoned artist demonstrated a fascinating through-line in the composer’s 32 piano sonatas, starting with No. 1 and ending with No. 31. The sonatas performed included the famous “Appassionata” (No. 23) and “Les Adieux” (No. 26). The most difficult task was to illuminate No. 1’s comparatively uninspired boilerplate from which Beethoven had started on his sonata journey. Following with No. 23, Ashkar gave us a quantum leap: in only three movements (instead of the customary four) Ludwig’s impetuous and supremely athletic contributions to piano repertoire had become history-making.
This, where Ashkar startled his audience with a bolt of energy and abundant technical fluidity in the many virtuosic passages that came like a blitz after brooding contemplation. In all the many performances of this keyboard masterpiece I’ve heard, this was one of the most electrifying. In addition to bringing out the punchy, pointillistic syncopations in the left hand and the knuckle-busting demands for the right hand, Ashkar brings his own fervent impetuosity to the genre — one that is very well matched to Beethoven — and one that is not easily forgotten.