Bach concertos arranged for mandolin and orchestra
Kammerakademie Potsdam DG 479 0092
Between Worlds DG 479 1069
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Be’er Sheva, in the Negev, was the site of what has been called history’s last great cavalry charge – by the 4th Australian Light Horse – triumphing over the Ottoman Turks in 1917. It is also the birthplace of the Israel Sinfonietta, one of the world’s busiest chamber orchestras. And it was here that Avi Avital was born, a young man who, in a very short space of time, has attracted international interest for his extraordinary skill on the mandolin. Certainly, his virtuosity has given to the instrument a new lease on life, rescuing the mandolin from further decline and restoring to it a significance it hasn’t had for centuries.
His broadcast performances with Paul Dyer’s Brandenburg Ensemble were first rate.
Two CDs on the DG label give fascinating insights into Avital’s command of the instrument. In an all-Bach compilation devoted to arrangements for mandolin of three of the Master’s most loved keyboard concertos, Avital’s extraordinary skill is everywhere apparent. Can there be anywhere right now a musician able to equal, let alone better, Avital’s musicianship?
Listen to his version of the much-loved keyboard concerto in D minor, its first movement given an athletic quality, evoking its robust, joyous essence to the nth degree. If there is anywhere right now a musician able to equal, let alone better, this astonishing feat of musical insight, I’d like to know about it. I think that Bach himself, a man certainly not averse to taking the music of others and refashioning it, would have enthusiastically embraced these arrangements for mandolin.
Whether energetically essaying rapid note streams, revealing the gentle, introverted essence of the slow movement or exulting in the vivacity of a typical Bachian finale, Avital reaches for the stars. And, as if drawing inspiration from their gifted soloist, the musicians of the Kammerakademie Potsdam, come up trumps with first rate accompaniments.
Another CD recording – Between Worlds – has a much more folksy air to it with favourites such as Monti’s Czardas (given a nostalgia-drenched performance) and a quite delightful account of Bartok’s ever popular Rumanian Dances cheek by jowl with less frequently encountered music. There are also fine arrangements of de Falla’s Canciones Populares. Frequently on this CD, we hear, as well, the clarinet playing of Giora Feidman, that Argentinian-born Israeli musician who seems to defy the passage of time, playing with as much relish and artistry as ever despite being well on the way to 80. And the wizardry of Richard Galliano on accordion, with Klaus Stoll impeccable on double bass, also contribute to a first rate offering.
Georgian folk music is well to the fore here in fascinating, hypnotically listenable performances. And there’s a Piazzolla delight, a fugal-flavoured tango, as improbable and unexpected as it is engaging. As well, you can listen to Avital and friends in the vivace movement from Dvorak’s much loved ‘American’ Quartet. And with harpist Catrin Finch, Avital presents a gently melancholy, traditional Welsh song.
If ever there’s unambiguous evidence of a young musician scaling the heights, it’s this.