Colleagues play works of Jewish composers

Yuriy Bekker

College of Charleston professors Natalia Khoma and Ran Dank and Charleston Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker celebrated the works of Jewish composers Sunday evening at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim with stellar performances of Mendelssohn, Erwin Schulhoff and Paul Schoenfield.

The program, called “Classical Colleagues,” was part of Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s series “A World of Jewish Culture.”

Khoma opened the turbulent first movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor with a deep tone wrought with feeling. Dank provided a sturdy foundation for the ensemble, executing formidable passages with ease, strongly signaling each downbeat. Bekker’s and Khoma’s strings engaged in lively dialogue throughout; the players did a wonderful job of blending their sounds while shining as soloists. The musicians blazed through fiery passages of fast runs and ended the movement with such vigor that the audience immediately applauded.

The third movement got off to a sprinting start — a bit too fast — but Dank grounded the ensemble into a solid rhythmic groove. The musicians tore through the electric, high-powered finale with the utmost conviction.

The second piece, “5 Etudes de Jazz” by Erwin Schulhoff, was the compositional highlight of the program.

The obscure composer’s works are rarely played today, although it’s a mystery as to why; this work showed a composer with a distinctive voice. Schulhoff incorporated elements of jazz and used them to create an entirely new musical color palette.

As Dank aptly stated, the work is “not jazz exactly, but a composer’s impression of what jazz sounds like.” Dank was a musical chameleon, pouncing through tricky, jazzy passages and then embracing the romantic, pensive air of the slow movements.

The musicians approached the last work, Schoenfield’s “Cafe Music,” with energy — so much energy, in fact, that Khoma popped a string after the first movement.

After she stepped off the stage, Dank entertained the audience with some improvised melodies on the piano, and Bekker goodheartedly played along.

She returned and the musicians finished with the same infectious energy with which they began.

Natalie Piontek is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.