Similar to film festivals, thanking the all-important sponsors had been silently accomplished by twin, smallish screens (and a single easel for the event’s supporter) at Dominion-Chalmers, and a full-size cinematic screen in the National Gallery. Nonetheless, the dreaded announcements (unseen warnings related to digital devices and a welcome to the performance about to start—in both official languages, of course) once again spoiled the aural anticipation of the artistry to come. Ah, for the pre-cellular days when there was nary a word said prior to the first sound heard. Q: Why not put the admonishments or welcomes on those same screens so that those of us who come prepared do not have to endure noise pollution ahead of the first measure?
From the first of those in the opening work (Piazzolla’s zesty Verano Porteño—an arrangement from the widely adapted movement of The Seasons), it was happily evident that the Zodiac Trio had honed their collective skills and insights since the last time they were featured in these pages (cross-reference below).
The three performers (Kliment Krylovskiy, clarinet; Vanessa Mollard, violin; Riko Higuma, piano) have discovered the vital magic of offering deceptively loose (but controlled) and easy-going melodies alongside accompaniments that are at one with the composer’s singular ability to write between the lines. The nearly perfect foot stomps (always a challenge to hit the deck and the notes!) delighted everyone.
Galina Ustvolskaya’s Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano most certainly lived up to its billing as “dark, almost painfully so.” This frequently angry, despairing study of contrasts was ideally set up by Krylovskiy’s haunting, solo declamations (initially underscored by a single bass line from Higuma’s effectively discreet realization) before Mollard entered the fray with a purposely strident line of her own. Overall, the writing was more a series of duos, with the composer waiting long and hard to bring all of the elements at her disposal onto the same page.
The second frame was decidedly more conversational (again, not always pleasant discourse) and featured Mollard’s unforgettable excursion to the sonic heights. The finale allowed the longest segment where all three protagonists dug hard and deep into the canvas of desperate, unrelenting angst. With such a dry room (especially compared to Dominion-Chalmers), it’s a further credit to the performersthat they managed to produce so many layers of colour and balanced interventions.
Wisely, the next work (the Canadian première of Nicholas Bacri’s 2007 A Smiling Suite—transcribed from an earlier work for piano) brought the mood back to that of festival fun. Of course, it was savoured all the more because of the descent to darkness that preceded.
The five vignettes which are meant to evoke styles and forms of composers past (a kind of Pictures at an Exhibition lite) were just the sorbet required to complement the heavier dishes.
These ears found dollops of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (effectively providing an extra echo to Couloir, cross-reference below), the “marchiness” of Bizet, Pierné or Ibert (take your pick!), a delectable Bachian air and a rough-and-ready finale that dashed to the double bar with unbridled enthusiasm.
Bartók’s Contrasts concluded the program and was given a sensitive, wide-ranging performance at one with the extraordinary imagination of its creator. Highlights included Kryloskiy’s beautifully rendered cadenza in “Recruiting Dance,” Mollard’s deft, left-hand pizzicato technique (and perfectly executed disappearance al niente…) during “Relaxation,” along with Higuma’s scintillating passagework (clearly paving the way for Concerto for Orchestra just five years later), as “Fast Dance” threatened to melt keys and resin in its whirlwind flight into consciousness.
At seven o’clock it was back to Dominion-Chalmers to discover if the Miró Quartet and rising mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta could conquer the dilemma of sound that had earlier befuddled their colleagues from Romania.
Alas, this performance of Schubert’s deeply moving Quartettsatz in C Minor—with the all-too-rare exception of perfectly crafted/felt changes—never settled into its skin and the potential for revelation through harmonic shifts must await another day.
The Hugo Wolf set that followed (selections from Mörike-Lieder) was a rehearsal away from uniformity (notable, nonetheless, was Giunta’s sublime phrasing in “Fussreise”—“Journey on Foot”—how sad, maddening for many, that the gala house program didn’t have room for the texts). The non-musical interruptions of a staff photographer (some of us hear everything!) and single-clap at song’s end were, understandably, erased by a gentle baby’s cry, which prompted the mother to immediately take both out of the chamber.
Puccini’s Elegy suffered the most from the quartet’s inability to let the phrases complete and dissipate before moving onto the next.
If the marking “tentavisio” would ever be coined, it could be used to describe the overall effect of Respighi’s Sunset. It was not, collectively, as secure as the Wolf; the need was felt for a conductor (horrors—in chamber music?) to fully realize the miracle of chordal movement that lurked so closely beneath the surface. Not even the slight, prayer-like homage to Brahms could settle the score.
With two more works still ahead after the break (Barber’s Dover Beach; Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor, Op. 95) and another full day looming, it seemed prudent to slip away into the night and hope for better luck in the sound sweepstakes yet to come. JWR