The final performance in Smedes Parlor "Emerging Young Artists Series" ended this year's concert season at St. Mary's with exuberance. The performers were three Juilliard students, clarinetist Moran Katz, cellist Gal Nyska and pianist Michael Berkovsky, all originally trained in Israel. Nyska was transplanted to the Triangle, where he studied with NCS musicians Leonid Zilper and Bonnie Thron, and is familiar to local audiences. It is always heartening to watch a young performer grow over the years, especially when we can consider Nyska "home schooled" if not "home grown." With the piano as the constant, the program showcased, first, Katz and then Nyska, ending with all three coming together for the Brahms Clarinet Trio.
In this country, Jean Françaix (1912-1997) is hardly a household name except among wind players - which is a pity. While his music may not be profound, it is always entertaining. And the Tema con variazioni for clarinet and piano that opened the program was a good example. The work was composed in 1978 when the composer stated: "My Tema con variazioni was written for an exam at the National Superior Conservatory of Music in Paris. The professor at the time, Ulysse Delecluse, had the rather sadistic idea to have me write a piece for A clarinet with arduous sequences.... and up in the high pitch range to make things worse. But I still managed to include solemn passages that evoke a cardinal in vestments. The exam was a success, and not a single student's mother became enraged." The work is based on a simple theme with eight variations of increasing complexity and technical difficulty, involving not only the pitch issues alluded to by the composer, but also nasty cross rhythms with the piano. It is a display piece for the clarinet, pushing the performer's abilities to the limit, and Katz gave a spectacular performance in sound and in body language. Already the recipient of numerous awards, Katz has world-class potential.
Robert Schumann's Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op.102, for cello and piano, is one of Schumann's more heavy-handed chamber works. It is full of musical exclamation points and unfortunately Nyska over-emphasized every one of them, not heeding the composer's admonition "Mit Humor" in the first piece. Part of the problem was that the piano lid was fully open, and Schumann's dense piano part tended to drown out Nyska's warm, expressive playing in the more lyric passages.
The highlight of the evening was a stunning performance of Johannes Brahms's Clarinet trio in a minor. Written in 1891 when Brahms was 58, it has always been considered an "autumnal" work. But the three performers demonstrated that "it ain't necessarily so," demonstrating a combination of technical polish and youthful exuberance that gave the work an uncommon sparkle and vitality. Here, the balance worked better as well, giving Nyska more of an opportunity to demonstrate the richness and expressiveness of his tone.
We hope Nyska will introduce us to more of his friends in the future.