Alfred and Andres: The Prequel

by Mark Greenberg
February 2007

Maoz Ezra
92nd Street Y Gallery
February 2, 2007

Long ago, in a gallery far away …

Okay, not long ago; a day before Peter Fletcher’s recital, to be precise.

For where are we now? Now we are at the 92nd Street Y Gallery in New York, of a Friday evening, early in February: February the second, 8 PM, to be precise.

On the walls are photographs. True, they are not so much Stieglitz as what Cornell Capa called “Concerned Photography.” Still, here is a gallery filled with photos.

And what is being presented? A New York premiere of a piece written for (but never played by) Andres Segovia, some half a century ago, as well as a program made up of several other pieces associated with Segovia.

The young Israeli guitarist is Maoz Ezra. He is a much different cat from Peter Fletcher. He may not have Fletcher’s virtuosic ambitions (or he just may not drive himself as hard). Either way, he is not a heavy breather at all. In fact, he is casual and understated in red velvet velour with gold-embroidered tunic collar. He plays an odd Israeli guitar with carved grapevine porting and an internal resonating chamber and his sound is warm and lovely. Maoz opened with two Villa-Lobos Etudes, number 11 (perhaps a bit over-programmed these days but decently played), followed by the less familiar scale study, number 7. A Prelude and Presto by Bach (BWV 995) had its ups and downs, but the program came into its own with a Mertz Elegie. Mr. Ezra has studied with David Starobin, and he did his splendid teacher proud with a ravishing presentation of this beautiful arpeggio study. A fine and lyrical presentation of Tarrega’s “Capricho Arabe” concluded the first half of this recital.

The title piece of the program, A Triptych to Segovia, by the Egyptian composer Halim El Dabh, opened the second half of Mr Ezra’s recital. This work, written in the 1950s, was decades ahead of its time. Its first movement, “Rhythm in Space,” opens with extensive golpe and tambor techniques that would not be out of place (if multiplied by four) in an LAGQ concert even today. One can only wonder what Segovia made of it; he apparently put off the composer by replying that the score was written too small and he could not make it out. An enlarged rewrite seems to have received no Segovian response.

Nonetheless, the last section of the piece, “Tocata,” contains some quite approachable and beautiful writing that is modernistic only in passing. A difficult piece rhythmically and otherwise, Maoz Ezra did an admirable job reading from score à la Starobin again.

The program concluded wonderfully, moving from strength to strength with musical and charming performances of Llobet’s “Testament d’Amelia,” and a Barrios Valse (Op.8, No. 4, also perhaps programmed a bit too often). While definitely not on the Segovia dance card, Maoz made a good case for slowing down the tempo until one can dance to it.

Best of all were the last set of pieces, Three Ladino Songs, for which Maoz was joined by his wife, Leilah. A warm and charming musician like her husband, Leilah performed these songs as tenderly as if singing in her own household, to her own family. How I wish my dear friends Fred Hand and Reb Isaiah Tversky, who adore such much, could have been there. They would have been transported direcly to heaven (as was I).

Not a bad place to spend a Friday evening.