JWR Articles: Live Event - Baroque 'n' strings (Featured performer: Gil Sharon) - October 6, 2009

Baroque 'n' strings

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Pushing the mandate largely pays off

If the generally accepted one-player-per-part definition of chamber music had been strictly applied to chamberWORKS! 16th season opener, the chosen repertoire would never have been heard. No worries: a careful examination of the house program’s cover (and season brochure) deftly provides two words of artistic licence: “music ensemble,” thus silently shouting down the purists and expanding the musical possibilities (as many other organizations are doing to prop up the box office appeal, cross-reference below) with just five syllables.

If this sort of repertoire is a sign of seasons to come (the remainder of 2009-2010 is comprised of traditional chamber music offerings) then there’s good news and cautious news.

Having the chance to hear Gil Sharon’s views on perhaps the best-loved work of the entire Baroque oeuvre (Pachelbel Canon fans are already penning a defence of the ground bass master) is well worth pushing the boundaries of the mandate in any event.

Seldom does one hear a violinist so totally secure in his skin, bow and left hand. The instant understanding that he’s an extraordinary instrumentalist takes a backseat to the reality that Sharon is a vrai musician. His soaring, capturing and delving into the essence of the twelve poetic movements was a pleasure at every turn. String colleagues—solo and ripieno—were of the same mind. Their collective potential for greatness briefly enticed the ear in the new venue (Lincoln Alexander Centre, where the sight lines are fine but the removal of the tone-devouring wing curtains in favour of some sort of acoustic shell might well improve the blend and most definitely permit enough reverberation to lift the musical result to the level these fine musicians deserve).

Alas, there was seldom a structural cadence or movement’s close that could not have benefitted from an equally sympathetic conductor (so rare these days that many distinguished solo artists prefer to be their own maestros rather than become shackled by the frequently well-meaning but stylistically “light” arm-beaters who are really waiting for their moment to shine in the symphony—of course, I’m just making that up …).

Highlights were abundant. The joy and zest of “Spring” was infectious from the first measure; violist Chau Luk’s faithful dog was no parody—subtly supported by the section violins even as Sharon worked his melodic magic above them; the lilt of the closing “Danza pastorale” was ideal.

“Summer’s” blazing heat was palpable and beautifully balanced by the covey of birds; as was demonstrated on numerous occasions, the “trio sonata” of Sharon, Jack Mendelsohn (who couldn’t be put off the scent no matter where the inventive violinist’s imagination took him) and harpsichordist Cécile Desrosiers (the model of discretion and tact, wisely deferred to the composer’s intent and camaraderie of her confrères) kept the music moving ahead with purpose; the thundering finale mustered all the shivers G Minor can offer.

The mood of joyful thanksgiving as “Autumn” began was infectious—propelled steadily and discreetly forward thanks to bassist Ludi Pollak (ah, the nimbleness of the German bow in the service of Italian art); Sharon drained Bacchus’ cup with unbelievable ease; the stuff of dreams—rather than described sleep—slipped eerily into the hall in the middle movement; the rhythmic snap of the “dotted” hunters was the perfect foil.

“Winter’s” early chill was left to the harmonic shifts and relentless trills (hearing this famous opening without everyone near their crackling bridges was a welcome change); the warmth around the hearth (gently supported by soothing, contrasting pizzicati) offered just the requisite repose before the final blast where Nature’s last laugh morphed into a hearty hurrah from the delighted crowd.

The two-work program (which wisely had the printed order reversed due—we learned—to Sharon’s insistence: right he was, allowing the pleasant sorbet from Grieg to balance the far-ranging tone-drama of the first half) concluded with one of CBC Radio’s best friends: the Holberg Suite.

Now, having a better view of his fellow performers, Sharon was able to lead with greater ease and clarity. Much to the enjoyment of all, everyone on both sides of the footlights relaxed into the delightful miniatures. Of special note was Brandon Chui’s brief but memorable solo, demonstrating his double threat as both violinist and violist.

Thanks to all concerned for pushing the musical envelope. What better way to celebrate the new digs? JWR

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Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons), Op. 8, Nos. 1-4 - Antonio Vivaldi
Holberg Suite, Op. 40 - Edvard Grieg
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