Cellist Ariel Barnes said it all: “It’s just the right music for this room.”
The repertoire for cello and harp is surprisingly sparse given the huge array of textures and sonic spectrum available to composers. Those fortunate/wise enough to attend this noontime recital were rewarded with the first ensemble thus far in 2013 to solve the acoustical challenges of Dominion-Chalmers United Church. The balance, blend and careful use of al niente were superb throughout. Similar to Brahms’ Third Symphony (where, astonishingly for some, all four movements end quietly), the trio of compositions that comprised this program all faded into heavenly nothingness. Better yet, the body language of Barnes and harpist Heidi Krutzen drew the assemblage into their shared artistic vision so convincingly that not one patron spoiled the many, welcome moments of emotional/intellectual bliss by an early clap (“See? I know it’s over!”) or spell-breaking “bravo!” that so frequently greet the unbelievable moment of huge reflection when the German master’s Op. 90 (imagine attending the première…), ever so reluctantly, exudes its final “Free at last” adieu in contemporary concert halls around the globe.
Elsewise on the non-musical sound palette, we weren’t so lucky.
The unavoidable “pew creaks” were less annoying than at many other concerts (due to the small gathering and rapt attention). Knowing there would be at least some “wooden” interruptions (as I did the previous night when the collective talents of the Miró Quartet and mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta couldn’t find the magic to hold their disparate parts as together as the composers imagined—cross reference below), I once again sat in the least populated section of the balcony (affording a marvellous view of the instrumentalists plying their craft and popping corks—more on that below) only to be joined for the world première of Caroline Lizotte’s Close for Couloir by a compulsive texter who—naturally—hadn’t muted her phone and a latecomer whose entry during the performance could have been heard on Parliament Hill. What are real music lovers to do?
Jocelyn Morlock’s Three Meditations on Light was a marvel of subtle textures and tone. The opening “The Birds Breathe the Morning Light” washed through the hall fuelled by Barnes’ high pedal and Krutzen’s deft handling of the melodic snippet, double echoed in the “Tombeau du Couperin” moment from yesterday’s performance by the Zodiac Trio (cross-reference below).
The generous helpings of pluck, pizz and harmonics were at one with the program of fireflies “dancing” on water in the “Bioluminescence.” With so many images bursting into thin air, a cinematic treatment of this music seems to be the next logical step…
After transitioning with a definite feeling of Helios added to the mix from the second movement, the finale assured one and all that the sun would continue to rise thanks to the twin layers of warmth and hope permeating the canvas. The precious last moments featured the heady combination of the cello, so like Icarus, being drawn ever higher and closer to the heat of the sun even as Krutzen’s quiet accompaniments added a welcome dash of calm. The ensuing silence, thankfully, allowed all present to reverently add their own silent mediations to what had just been so personally shared.
A collection of five interlinked movements sent the patrons on a journey to Scotland as Close for Couloir made its inaugural way into the world. Lizotte magically fused traditional folk tunes with her own very special ideas about sound ((having the players utilize wine corks placed between strings and unbound horsehair drawn on strings and wood produced hues and effects that were always apt, never gimmicky). A further twinge of Helios and Mahler added much to the overall dreaminess as the first steps were taken. In “Clans” (with corks now a flyin’) the atmosphere overflowed with rollicking good fun and enticing joie de vivre.
Conjuring up one of this season’s hits at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (cross-reference below), “Soldier and the Queen [Mary Stuart]” allowed both performers to take turns leading the fray and handing off their lines with a sense of oneness and gradual build that supported the program marvellously. Barnes’ final change of register was unforgettable, soiled only slightly by a wayward cellphone during the doleful adieu.
The cello then became evil incarnate amidst the “Gargoyles” before letting its drone slip over to the harp where Krutzen expertly added a touch of rasp.
The fifth segment found its traditional roots at the outset, even as the image of “close” carved in stone sprung to aural life. The cello’s gentle song was given a bed of busyness from the harp, allowing everything to flow steadily to the soothing conclusion.
Reaching back to a song (“Don’t Excite the Recollection”) originally intended for a bass-baritone and a balalaika orchestra as a starting point, Valeri Kitka’s Sonata for Cello and Harp was a different sort of journey whose intensity readily belied its namesake.
Only virtuosi dare attempt this—at times rhapsodic, frequently introspective—set of theme and variations. It would be hard to imagine a more deeply felt, satisfying result. JWR