Do not stay fixed on the ground! Courage! From out! Who has the arms and head, with joyful vigor, is at home everywhere.

-From Goethe’s “Les Années de Pèlerinage”

Matan Porat’s intimate concert at Buttenwieser Hall pays homage to the rising and falling semitone motif through the history of Western music with tremendous self-expression and freedom.  The sheer complexity of moods from lamentation to exaltation and everything in between, made for an engaging musical experience filled with contrast and consonance.

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The journey began with Domenico Scarlatti’s (1685-1757) Sonata in D minor K32, a composition that has an immediate ascending (and descending) melodic line, a questioning theme in the form of a lament.  François Couperin (1688-1773) the French Baroque composer noted for his tone poems continues the narrative in ‘high style’ with “La Muse-Plantine” from his Pièces de clavecin.  The Czech composer Leos Janáček (1854-1928) who mined the rich history of Czechoslovakian folk music, in particular that of the southern region of Moravia, followed suit with “Intimate Sketches: Just blind fate?” a meandering impressionistic work indicative of the time period.  Janáček’s colorful work feathered seamlessly into Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “Song Without Words Op. 62 No. 1” a pleading romantic affair, softly played and accentuated. The sweetness continued into the Norwegian composer Edvard Hagerup Grieg’s (1843-1907) Lyric Piece, Op. 12, No. 1, a graceful aria without complication in stark contrast to Béla Bartók’s (1881-1945)  short work with ostinato effect, Mikrokosmos, Book 6: From the Diary of a Fly.  The complex pattern manipulations and canonic progression within Bartok’s buzzing arrangement perfectly mimics the erratic yet determined nature of a fly.

Brahms’s sweetly agitated Intermezzo in E minor, Op. 116, No. 5 followed the comical musical notions of a pest pleasantly.  Part of Brahm’s seven Fantasias for piano written 1892 these works linger in the mind with elegance.  Another work in E minor, A Mazurka by Chopin, continues the homophonic textural qualities in the Brahm’s work but with a little less emphasis on the bass and greater expression in the right hand.  The French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez’s Notation No. 11 inserted next with cinematic vitality.  Boulez (1925-2016), an avant-garde polemicist, created lasting works in the 1940’s and 50’s.  The piano miniatures he composed in 1945, the 12 Notations, remain an important part of modern classical music and act here as intermediary to defined sections within the program.

Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) “The Prophet Bird” takes a different flight, the short downward minor third.  The spirited voicing or cries in this slow movement are part of Schumann’s “Forest Scenes,” and conjure similar notions of strange flight in the introductory section.  French composer, Erik Satie (1866-1925) provides a measured technical interlude with  Gnossienne No.2.  The Gnossienne was a new term for a musical composition that Satie created with a certain religious connotation.  The music scored in free time is quite experimental in its harmony, marking another deviation in the program.

We can all relate to Claude Debussy’s (1862-1918) “Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the Snow)” after the recent blizzard that hit New York City over the weekend.  The work from Debussy’s Préludes, Book 1 No. 6, has a four note motive that is present throughout with the impression of trudging through the snow, triste et lent. Borat followed this sad and pensive journey with the lively Baroque Gigue from Janáček Partita No. 1 in B flat major by J.S. Bach.  The flashy contrapuntal texture is a nice way to climb out of a knee-high snowdrifts. The joviality is continued in the Lyric Waltz in F major, from “Dances of the Dolls,” by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich  (1906-1975) and  Beethoven (1770-1827) adds lightness of being with a Bagatelle in A-flat Major.

Another wonderful Notation, #4, from Boulez marks a new direction of musical intensity leading into another Gigue, this time by Mozart in G major, K. 574.  The connection between the two is striking.  The longest work in the program, Liszt’s  “Années de pèlerinage: Vallée d’Obermann,” has a somber effect. Coupled with Gyorgy Ligeti’s (1923-2006) Musica ricercata: V. Rubato. Lamentoso and Gyorgy Kurtag’s (b.1926) Játékok: Doina one begins to weight of Hungarian classical tradition.

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Franz Liszt, 1858 by Franz Hanfstaengl

A Notation from Boulez into Alexander Scriabin’s (1872- 1915) Vers la flamme,  Op. 72. marks the mystical turn in the program.   Scriabin’s flair for illusion is poetic.  The unbroken ascension conveys simply the titular notion, “Towards the Flame.” Before returning to Scarlatti again Porat pours his soul into a triumphant Improvisation, working the entire keyboard with the zeal of youthful exuberance.  The Scarlatti theme appears again like a memory, turned inside out by so much in between wrapping up a pattern of classical ideals and associations.

-JSB