Fast becoming the most dependable musical experience in the region, the Gallery Players of Niagara’s feast of works for piano, violin and cello brought welcome warmth to the near-capacity crowd that congregated with their musical friends for the Rodman Hall performance (repeated the same evening at St. Mark’s Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake).
Music director Margaret Gay’s choices melded together beautifully. Haydn, despite not having a life “suitable” for Hollywood treatment (I can’t imagine the play Joseph hitting the boards anytime soon), influenced Beethoven more by example then their actual meetings. Particularly his deft understanding of development and modulation fired Beethoven’s imagination and propelled his creative genius into areas that may not have been discovered without “Papa’s” incredible oeuvre.
His three-movement opus that opened Sunday’s proceedings was, in many ways, the highlight of the offerings. Accompanied by pizzicati that became more accurate with every pluck, David Louie once again coaxed and cajoled sounds and textures from the reluctant piano that simultaneously delighted and amazed. His ability to breathe with the music was infectious, which led to a level of ensemble second-to-none
Both Julie Baumgartel and Margaret Gay responded in-kind, playing with authority and grace. While the timbres, themes and ideas unfolded in a straightforward and thoughtful manner, I could only wish that their bows were into the string a hair sooner so that the passages of dialogue had more zest.
The bare octaves that began the brief, near-melodramatic “Allegretto” produced a unique tone rather than three distinct elements. In its more melodic passages the strings, especially Baumgartel’s statements, soared with surety and poise even as Louie went far beyond the technical challenges of Haydn’s canvas.
The “Finale” sauntered along like, well, an old friend, and was delivered with an amiability that had even the very youngest members of the audience swaying with the fun.
Sandwiched between two classical masters, Chan Ka Nin’s Among Friends made a wonderful, rich filling rather than (all too frequently with other ensembles in search of Canada Council grants) a thin tasteless paste.
Beginning life as a clarinet trio, I have to admit (as a retired clarinetist) that the violin replacement adds a dimension that a single reed never could. Once again the performers rose to intricacies of the score, whose germanic three-note “theme” incongruously brought the final movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 to mind, perhaps as a result of Haydn’s notes still lodged in my mind. Chan’s string slides, bridge work, harmonics and the piano’s inside and out directives (perfectly coordinated with the violin) produced a wide spectrum of colours; his use of rhythms and stylistic surveys from polytonality to popular culture dances and declamations kept the work constantly flowing, but I found myself hoping that this continuous stream would select and develop an idea beyond mere presentation. Seems I’ll have to await the sequel.
The “Archduke” Trio, as Louie pointed out, reflects (and quotes) previous work such as the “Pastoral” Symphony (rising fourths), using the three instruments more from an orchestral than soloistic point of view. And, yes, the writing is not as bold or heroic as the “Eroica” or even some of the piano sonatas (Op. 31, No.2), but this is only because the master found that inner tension and understatement can often make his artistic and emotional points far better than sfzorzandi and trombones. Although this performance often went below the surface, it fell just short of plumbing its depth.
Abandoning the repeat of the exposition in a work as complex as this is near criminal As a result, everything sounds developed; the themes don’t have time to settle in memory so that when the wondrously embellished first subject re-appears, beginning the recapitulation, we merely smiled.
The “Scherzo” is marked “Allegro.” At the clip taken, it never really settled, becoming more “We got through it” than “Aha!, the contrast to the Trio is much deeper than chromatic to tonal.”
But once the “Andante” was launched, we were treated to many sublime interjections, accompaniments and melodic understanding, notably through Gay’s subtle but reverberant tone production, that would melt even the Great Ice Storm—more, please.
The “Finale” marvellously summed up the day, moving forward with confidence, everyone mindful of each other—all of us aware what a great privilege it is to perform and partake of such magical moments. But, surely, that’s what friends are for. JWR