Hebrew Melody Concert

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A beautiful tone, stylish technique and profoundly expressive interpretative approach were the qualities on display in a superb recital at Central Synagogue, Hallam Street, on Wednesday 12 November, given by the violinist Jack Liebeck. Liebeck, who recently released a CD of Kreisler encores, has carved a busy career including artistic directorships, film music credits, chamber music groups, and a RAM professorship, all of which has taken flight since his Wigmore Hall debut in 2002. Here partnered with responsive virtuosity by Danny Driver at the piano, Liebeck regaled a large gathering in a programme entitled Hebrew Melody, in the second of a series of seven monthly concerts held in one of London’s most historic and acoustically generous synagogues, themed around music of the Jewish diaspora.

The title Hebrew Melody derives from Joseph Achron’s famous miniature, composed, as anecdotes have it, in a brief half hour in 1911 at the time he joined the Society of Jewish Folk Music in St Petersburg. As Liebeck mentioned in his introduction, was a favourite of the virtuoso Josef Hassid. It has become better known in recent times, and Liebeck has a special affinity for the melting rhapsodic shape of the melody, its repeated notes and rocking motifs redolent of Yiddish song. Yet what was especially surprising about this ravishing performance, was its connection to the piece played just before, the theme tune from Schindler’s List, by John Williams, which seemed to share a similar repertoire of motifs and harmonies, notably the motif of rocking fifths. Here Liebeck played the hit song from Spielberg’s hit film with a refreshing lack of sentimentality and impressive musicality, bringing to it the dynamic shading and subtle phrasing one expects from classic repertoire.

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Earlier in the Baal Shem Suite by Bloch, Liebeck and Driver produced a reading of rich resonance and cantorial fervour. Liebeck drives his phrases strongly with strong emphatic bow strokes; when he lets go his tone is silvery, and vibrant. In the Bloch he explored the ravishing colours of the upper register against the impressionistic textures which flowed in Driver’s skilful hands. Brahms’ A major sonata offered an inspiring overture, whilst the concert concluded with scintillating zest in Mendelssohn’s youthful sonata in F, rediscovered by Menuhin and here played with enthralling colour and lyricism.

The first movement flowed in true chamber interactions, themes and accompaniments shared and swapped, sprightly classically shaped motifs projected brightly. The substantial first movement drew applause; the refined sensitivity of the slow movement gave way to a racy finale full of crystalline scales with both players in absolute confluence, all the way to the riveting climax. It augured well for the continuing partnership of the duo whilst affirming the Liebeck’s commanding artistry, which also permeated the delicate Kreisler lollipop, as cherry to an already delicious recital.

By Malcolm Miller

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