For its Valentine’s Day program, chamberWORKS! could hardly have done better than pay homage to the Austrian composer who put more love from his heart into art than all of the political leaders—whose countries are vying for gold at the coincidental Olympics—combined.
The centrepiece of this classic love affair was Franz Schubert’s eternally sunny Quintet for Piano and Strings (“Trout”). Its relatively unusual instrumentation (a string trio and double bass are employed rather than the more common string quartet) proved to be a stroke of performance genius as the large crowd was once again treated to the incredibly nuanced and supportive artistry of double bassist Rob Wolanski. With his savvy shifts of bow speed and superb ensemble skills, the “bottom” of this sublime work has seldom been topped (the 1969 film by Christopher Nupen and subsequent recording featuring cellist Jacqueline du Pré and Zubin Mehta holding up the bass is long on celebrity and short on art).
With such a sound foundation—and the lauded nine-foot Yamaha grand piano—this was a performance to be savoured. Mostly, it was.
The opening “Allegro vivace” had all of the requisite ebb and flow, only lacking unanimity as to the execution of the repeated-note/dotted rhythm subject to lift it to the realm of excellence. The blend between violist Chau Luk and cellist Jack Mendelsohn in their melodic lines of the “Andante” was exquisite even as violinist Mark Skazinetsky and pianist Valerie Tryon wove the F Major fabric together with discretion and aplomb. The seemingly unstoppable “Scherzo” never truly settled into its rhythmic skin in the upper voices (skirting the pulse rather than centring on it), robbing the music of much of its zest and dramatic impact. Happily, the “Trio“ was far more secure, providing just the right tonic to the preceding whirlwind.
The famous “Theme and Variations” was blessed with an ideal tempo and infused with obvious love and respect. Greedily for some, when it was the piano’s turn to lead, the lines cried out for a tad more freedom and a few ounces more weight to the bottom of the keys that—full disclosure—your reporter’s ears savoured during the last two (live) solo recitals of the Viennese master from Emanuel Ax and Alfred Brendel (cross-references below).
The “Finale”—Allegro giusto—was easily the best of the bunch, stemming from a consistent approach by the performers on all fronts that made it a constant, near-heady pleasure, sending the patrons happily home, content that—at least for a couple of hours—all was well with the world.
Treats of an unexpected sort filled the songfest of the concert’s first half. Called on at the last moment to replace the ailing Joni Henson, soprano Janet Obermeyer proved to be a competent, ever-capable substitute as she and Tryon worked through the covey of songs from Britten, Schönberg, Satie and Schubert. Notable was the marvellously light-and-airy texture of “Je te veux,” expressive word painting (“Gigerlette”) and the beautifully understated “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” Tryon made it seem as if their collaboration had been built on many weeks rather than just a few hours of rehearsal.
Hearing “Die Forelle” just ahead of its instrumental counterpart was an especially deft act of programming, letting every ear in the room marvel yet again at the incredible creativity and output from a young man whose love of our most universal art belied his brief time on the planet. JWR