Sunday, March 13, 2022

Bach, Father and Son, plus late Brahms, at RHUMC

Einav Yarden recording at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church on March 11, 2022.


Einav Yarden, Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

Einav Yarden.
For the March recital in Classical Crossroads’ "Second Sundays at Two" 2021-22 season, the ever-vigilant and health-aware team deemed it safe enough to resume what had begun as customary before Covid's Omicron variant emerged to wield its scythe: to record in the presence of a small invited audience, duly vaccination-vetted and masked, for YouTube posting on the due date.

Thus it was an especial pleasure to be back in the spacious but analytical acoustic of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church for a recital by the Israel-born, Berlin-based pianist Einav Yarden that very much embraced the eternal verities. The centerpiece was the English Suite No. 2 in A minor BWV807 by J. S. Bach, one of the six in this set, which is generally, though not universally, thought to be the earliest of Bach’s groupings of keyboard suites, dating from his time in Weimar (1708-1717).

One of only three authentic portraits of 
J. S. Bach known to have survived,
painted by Johann Jakob Ihle in 1720,
a few years after the English Suites 
are thought to have been written.
Though one might wonder how the suite would sound on the lautenwerck(!), Ms. Yarden’s performance of it on the church’s Steinway was an optimum blend of clarity and commitment. The opening Prelude, while not particularly fast, had plenty of momentum and, as throughout the work, a meticulous articulation of the bass line. In the following succession of dance movements she subtly modified dynamic levels in the many repeats to mitigate any feeling of repetitive déjà vu: as welcome in the cool, flowing Allemande as in the dancing Courante.

To the fourth movement Sarabande, which like all but the Prelude is in two halves both marked to be repeated, Bach adds a kind of supplement headed “Les agréments de la même Sarabande” (literally “the amenities of the same Sarabande”), and like many performers Ms. Yarden opted to play the respective agréments after each half of the movement in place of the literal repeats.

A finely calculated increase in emphatic joyousness infused in turn the two Bourrées I and II and the final Gigue, so that the entire performance had a cumulative wholeness that made the work emphatically more than the sum of its parts—not to mention a definitive answer to any lips-pursing or head-shaking about the need to play Bach only on instruments of his time.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
As an aperitif to Johann Sebastian’s English Suite, Ms. Yarden had begun with a single movement by his second son. From his vast output of keyboard music, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Rondo in C minor H. 283 is the fourth item in the set of Keyboard Sonatas, Free Fantasies, and Rondos Wq. 59, published in 1785. Ms. Yarden fully projected the arresting and almost gnomic unpredictability of the piece, alerting the invited audience to the fine demonstration of pianism that was to follow.

After the Bach English Suite, she ended with five of Brahms’ seven Fantasien Op. 116, itself the first of four collections of piano pieces with consecutive opus numbers dating from 1892-93 that form an important element in the final phase of Brahms’ composing career. To quote the late Brahms authority Malcolm MacDonald: “Unlike these following groups, op. 116 seems less a compilation than a self-consistent entity,” and I regretted that time constraints (presumably) required the omission of the fourth and fifth pieces.

Brahms at a picnic.
Nonetheless, the five that Ms. Yarden selected— Nos. 1 Capriccio in D minor, 2 Intermezzo in A minor, 3 Capriccio in G minor, 6 Intermezzo in E major, 7 Capriccio in D minor—did form a sequence with no sense of disjunction and a satisfactory fast-slow-fast-slow-fast overall layout. To my ears the two Intermezzi lacked a little of the rapt, almost hermetic introspection which some pianists achieve in them, but her rather more outgoing approach, intensified by her clarity of articulation in RHUMC’s vibrant acoustic, was certainly consistent with the sequence felt as a whole, rather than a collection of five distinct entities.

Having previously managed to attend only one of Ms. Yarden’s several previous appearances in Classical Crossroads’ series—a Beethoven/ Schumann recital almost six years ago—it was a great pleasure at last to hear this remarkable pianist perform live again on this side of the great Covid divide—and permanently thus enabled, we must fervently hope! This recital can be enjoyed on YouTube here.


"Second Sundays at Two," Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Rolling Hills Estates, Sunday, March 13, 2022, 2.00 p.m. (recorded Friday, March 11).
Images: The recital: the author; Einav Yarden: artist website; J. S. Bach:; C. P. E. Bach: Wikimedia Commons; Brahms: CMUSE.

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