If you believe the old adage “imitation is the sincerest from of flattery,” then the Gallery Players of Niagara’s most recent outing confirmed that notion even more times than the three works contained in the program.
Fortunately, the CBC’s microphones were on hand for the evening performance at St. Mark’s Anglican Church, ensuring a much wider audience for this consistently adept ensemble when broadcast at a future date on Music Around Us.
Franz Danzi downloaded two favourite arias from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro as source melodies for his “Figaro-Quartett.&rdquo With no SURTITLES required, he cobbled together a pleasant sequence of variations that amply demonstrated Paul Meyer’s dexterity, Carol Lynn Fujino and Daniel Blackman’s discreet but steady support—everything ably anchored with punch and aplomb as needed by cellist and music director Margaret Gay. The only letdown was in the “Allegro moderato” where the famous march was turned on its rhythmic ear due to excessive weight on the dotted eighths rather than the quarters.
Niagara flautist Douglas Miller brought both his exceptional performance skills and competent arranging techniques to reduce William McCauley’s original accompaniment from string orchestra and harp to string quartet. The results were memorable, giving an extra lease on life to these slight but cogent morsels. The generous acoustics added depth to the “Adventurous” opening col legno effect that let Miller and Gay weave their low, legato dialogue in and out of the pews with ease. “Dolorous,” with its muted strings and clusters permitted the solo-flute line to expand or hold back at will. The only thing missing in the saucy “Dextrous” was a Bartók “snap” or two to confirm that master’s influence.
Following a well-controlled, eerie statement from the violins, more than a hint of Debussy’s “Faun” leaked through the lines only to be seasoned with dollops of Poulenc and Ives even as the ensemble let the brief memories disappear rather than merely end. “Capricious” rounded things out with pizzazz and—at least—a smattering of counterpoint that, doubtless, was an academic requirement, but not enough to worry J.S. Bach.
Only three weeks ago, it was my great pleasure to hear Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata with Midori and pianist Robert McDonald doing the honours (cross-reference below). And so it was with some amount of apprehension that I settled into Patrick Jordan’s arrangement for flute and string trio of the same music. It was suggested that this version—an expansion of forces rather than a reduction as were the earlier works—would yield a much fuller tonal result. However it would take a larger contingent still to—decibel for decibel—outweigh the original when Beethoven gives his two protagonists full rein.
The outer movements fared best. Starting with the violin, then switching to the flute for the first theme’s second statement (only to reverse the process in the recapitulation) was a brilliant way of easing us into the change of hue. Fujino and Miller supported each other thoughtfully, only failing to conclusively agree on the slight breaths that are so essential in delivering the subtext of the phrases. The “Rondo” gave everyone a chance to shine as the variations unfolded, each losing more of the melody that—like the finale of the “Pastoral” Symphony—the listener was inwardly hearing already.
Sadly, the magic of the “Adagio” was never revealed, the pizzicati of the viola and cello (through no fault of the performers) more an annoyance than a subtle bed for the chords. The Trio-less “Scherzo” was fun, but the quartet couldn’t muster the sudden burst of fire—so essential to effectively contrast the movements on either side.
These works made a welcome change, from the “tried and true,” only to remind us that—nine times out of ten—for total satisfaction, imitations ought to be avoided. JWR