JWR Articles: Live Event - Septête-à-tête (Artistic Director: Jack Mendelsohn) - May 26, 2009
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Septête-à-tête

3.5 3.5

Ready to move on

During his opening remarks before ChamberWORKS’! final concert of the season, the affable artistic director, Jack Mendelsohn, informed his devoted listeners and supporters that changes were afoot. Due to the steady expansion of Theatre Aquarius’ season (adding an extra week for each production—cross reference below) there is no longer enough room at the Dofasco inn to afford this delectable series of concerts in 2010.

No worries: Lincoln Alexander Centre (just a few blocks away) is happy to host the concerts with “open arms.” And why wouldn’t they? Here is much music-making of a high order—last night in the usual confines of the concert hall; many times moreover in the gymnasiums and cafeterias of school boards lucky/wise enough to have these dedicated performers bring their first-class programs to young, inquisitive minds.

Most fittingly, then, Sunday’s Last Night at Dofasco began with Carl Nielsen’s Serenata in vano. An edited edition (we had the full version) of this uniquely scored work (clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello and bass) that may or may not (anecdotal program notes are such fun!) have been written to woo/re-woo the Danish composer’s estranged wife back to the household, is frequently part of the educational repertoire. This spritely, brief, three-section opener was done to a well-practised T by the musicians, whetting the appetite for the main works to come.

Next up was one of Franz Schubert’s most sublime chamber works. Passionately and lovingly played as it was, a couple of blemishes were revealed that might also be rethought as the chamber-ensemble-that-Jack-built switches postal codes.

As well-intentioned and dedicated as he most certainly is, violinist Mark Skazinetsky couldn’t find the consistency of pitch or ability to lift his bow in the phrasing to render this marvellous work with the quality that ought to be expected by the attentive patrons. Violist Brandon Chui had his moments in the sun (notably the liquid legato of the “Menuetto’s” “Trio”) but lacked the surety and style of Mendelsohn’s unerring cello.

What’s an artistic director to do?

Ludwig van Beethoven’s magnificent Septet closed the season with palpable satisfaction that should result in higher-than-ever subscription renewals. The drama (the first 16 bars commanded the ear), melancholy (solo lines in the “Adagio”), playfulness (the “Scherzo” flew by with a shared sense of zest) and drive (the final “Presto” zipped along unstoppably) delighted the appreciative crowd.

While all of the performers contributed to the overall success, special mention must be made of bassist Rob Wolanski. His complete understanding of the harmonic journey and special skill of knowing when to push his colleagues and when to slip into the background, kept this reading moving steadily forward to its triumphant conclusion. Here’s to more of the same in the new digs! JWR


Historical perspective

Septet in E-flat Major
Deutsche Gramophon (138 887)
Germany 1964
Three and one-half stars

The Berlin Philharmonic Octet’s 1964 recording for Deutsche Grammophon still stands the test of time and recording techniques. There is much to admire: the deliberate, slow opening and “Adagio cantabile” (dangerously/lovingly rendered with clarintetist Herbert Stähr exquisitely singing the melodic line then expertly setting up the recapitulation); an ideal tempo for the “Theme and Variations” (French hornist Günter Köpp was at his stellar best); a zesty finale, featuring violinist Alfred Malecek’s well-crafted cadenza and the ensemble’s satisfying romp to the double bar.

Less than perfect was the pitch (mostly in the strings) and some moments of “panicoso” in the “Allegro con brio” and just a few measures of wayward ensemble elsewhere. The Berliners (all men, of course—women’s rights took a few more years to find their way to this playing field) provide an interesting insight as to how—even without their famed conductor—the notion of sound before substance (cross-reference below) still led the way. JWR

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Repertoire:
Serenata in vano - Carl Nielsen
Trio in B-flat Major, D. 581 - Franz Schubert
Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 - Ludwig van Beethoven
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