Pianist Jascha Nemtsov plays folk-influenced music by Jewish composers

November 4, 2011

While Schoenberg and his like-minded musical thinkers were deconstructing tonality in the 1920s and ’30s, other composers (Kodaly and Bartok, to name just two) were rediscovering and reveling in the folk music of their respective homelands — and Bartok had feet in both worlds. On Thursday — under the sponsorship of Charles Krauthammer’s organization, the Pro Musica Hebraica — pianist Jascha Nemtsov, joined by cellist Julian Arp, violinist Frank Reinecke and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, offered a well-researched program of folk-influenced music by little-known Jewish composers of that inter-war period at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.

Although a tang of dissonance, discretely applied, flavored most of what went on, only Joachim Stutschewsky seemed to draw more widely from hints of jazz and blues to color his harmonies, and his “Jewish Song” and “Freilachs” for piano and cello that opened the program were, in turn, lyrically wry and joyous. The rest reflected romantic longing and peasant energy, the imperatives of both dance and religion and a reverence for history, all couched in the modality and the emphatic rhythms that characterize so much of what we recognize as a Jewish musical tradition.

Of the two big pieces on the program, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Piano Trio, Op. 24, was the more adventurous with violin and cello often pursuing independent lines in different tonalities, while Julius Chajes’s “Hebrew Suite” (in an arrangement for piano, violin, cello and clarinet — the original also included another violin and a viola), with its romantic fervor, appealed to the heart.

As a soloist and an accompanist, Nemtsov favored a cleanly articulated touch that powered the percussive drive of the dance movements but never quite melted into the more lyrical songs. The rest of the ensemble moved easily among the varying musical moods.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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