Concert Reviews

Cheng² Duo – October 13, 2023

Chamber Music Kelowna opened their 2023/2024 season Friday evening with a much-anticipated visit from the brilliant Canadian cello/piano ensemble, Cheng² Duo (Cheng Squared Duo). Along with being comprised of two outstanding and internationally acclaimed musicians, the Cheng² Duo is also unique in that cellist Bryan Cheng and pianist Silvie Cheng are siblings. Their consummate artistry and close rapport were evident throughout the evening’s performance. This was also a rare opportunity for listeners to hear the 1696 ‘Bonjour’ Stradivarius cello on loan to Cheng from the Canada Council for the Arts. 

The concert opened with the colourful Five Pieces on Folk Themes by Georgian-born cellist and composer, Sulkhan Tsintsadze. The five short movements, each loosely based on traditional Georgian folk melodies, showcased the duo’s fun and playful side as well as their ability to seamlessly navigate rapid shifts of character and mood. The somber and pensive Arobnaya was followed by a spirited movement for solo pizzicato cello, Chonguri, reminiscent of the lute-like traditional instrument the choghur. The rhythmic Sachidao opened to the sonorous third movement, Nana, based on a traditional Georgian lullaby which many listeners may have already been familiar with from Tchaikovsky’s earlier setting of this melody. The work concluded with the Plyasovaya; a spirited village dance. 

The Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano “Shifting Baselines” by the American cellist and composer Paul Wiancko closed the first half. Written for the Cheng² Duo in 2020, this work demonstrated an unapologetic fusion of classical form with jazz idioms, extended techniques and an improvisational feel. Beginning and ending with a walking bass line played in unison, and complete tandem, by both artists, the piece unfolded in a grand arch. Wiancko himself describes the work as a “reflection on my continuing journey with Beethoven’s C major Sonata…and an attempt to distill my own musical language down to its core elements.’’ The grand climax of the work consisting of repeated C major scales played by the cello over bell-like chords in the piano was particularly evocative of this. Drawing on Wianckos’s extensive background in everything from jazz improvisation to world music and indie rock, this work showcased not only cellist Bryan Cheng’s incredible technical abilities but also gave the audience a glimpse into the immense world of sound possibilities of the cello. 

The little-known piece, Andante molto in F minor by Jean Sibelius opened the second half of the concert. The artists highlighted the sibling connection in their onstage remarks, noting that Jean wrote this piece for his younger, cello-playing brother, Christian. Aside from one furious cello outburst, the piece was eerily reminiscent of the dark, Finnish winter and was a suitable segue to the final work on the program.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s iconic Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19 concluded the program. Often referred to as a piano sonata with cello accompaniment, this work showcased the incredible strength and sensitivity of Silvie Cheng as a collaborative pianist. She navigated the fistfuls of notes with grace, and both she and cellist Bryan Cheng worked together in seamless harmony to bring this work alive. Filled with some of the most opulent melodies in the repertoire, the Cheng² Duo infused their performance with incredible depth, vitality and joy and had the audience on their feet for a standing ovation the moment the final note was played. 

After multiple curtain calls, the artists treated the audience to their own arrangement of a Chinese folk song, Racing Horses. Cheng’s 1696 cello could have been easily mistaken for an erhu in this piece loaded with pyrotechnics and the sounds of whinnying and galloping horses which had the audience back on their feet for a second ovation.

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based free-lance musician, educator and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.

UK’s Marmen Quartet Delights Packed House at RCA

The Marmen Quartet performed on Sunday February 5 at the Mary Irwin Theatre, their first concert in Kelowna since being awarded co-winners at the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2019. The Marmen formed at the Royal College of Music in London in 2013 and in addition to their win at the BISQC, they won first prizes at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition and the Royal Overseas League Competition, among other awards.  They will be in-residence at Southern Methodist University in April, working closely with its students, in addition to performing scheduled performances around the world.

Violinists Johannes Marmen and Laia Valentin Braun show an outstanding expressiveness, rich tone quality, and fluid technique and were evenly balanced tonally. Violist Bryony Gibson-Cornish has a warm, strong tone and a power which can carry right through the texture of the quartet.  Cellist Sinéad O’Halloran is an energetic performer with a very expressive face, fully engaged as she leaned towards the other string players, giving a strong foundation to the quartet.

The opening work was the Quartet in C Major, Op. 50, No. 2 (1787) by Joseph Haydn, who has been called the “father of the string quartet,” having spent fifty years creating and developing the four-movement form which subsequent composers used for centuries. In the opus 50 quartets, Haydn begins to show the influence of Mozart with more chromaticism in addition to being very lyrical. Thematic material is evenly distributed among the players who communicated with one another effectively through facial expressions and physical movements, creating a blended and beautiful sound.

Béla Bartók’s six quartets break new ground as he experimented with the harmonic system creating a dissonance which can be harsh at first hearing but soon becomes very exciting.  In addition, he called for the production of unusual percussive sounds on the instruments.  His Quartet No. 4 in C Major (1928) was played masterfully by the Marmen, seemingly with ease despite the speed and complexity of rhythm. It has five movements which are paired, the first being similar in style to the fifth, the second and fourth both playful with the fourth movement being all pizzicato.  The middle movement is a beautiful and mournful solo by the cellist, played with beauty and passion by Sineád O’Halloran and accompanied by the other strings.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet No.8, Opus 59, No. 2 (1807) is one of three dedicated to Count Razumovsky, who commissioned the works.  These pieces demonstrate a transition to a fuller, more orchestral style than previous works, bringing the string quartet onto a stage rather than in a parlour. At this time Beethoven was beginning to realize that he was losing his hearing and the emotion of that discovery translates into the music. In the second movement, the quartet showed “a great deal of feeling” as Beethoven requested, and created a beautifully lyrical, legato style. The musicians made certain expressive gestures, such as lingering on a particular note or subtly changing the tone colour, which touched the heart of the listener. The third movement consisted of variations on the theme of a Russian folk song, in which they played the complex rhythm with great accuracy and energy. They showed their technical skill again in the wild Slavonic dance of the last movement which went like a whirlwind!  

 Chamber Music Kelowna has been presenting first-class chamber music in Kelowna for 42 years, and a packed hall attests to the popularity of their choices.  The Mary Irwin Theatre was envisioned for just this type of performance and the audience’s expectations were exceeded yet again. 

Karen Krout is a retired musician who is grateful to live and play music with friends on the unceded traditional territory of the Syilx/Okanagan People. 

Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu – December 3, 2022

The Chamber Music Kelowna concert on Saturday evening at the Mary Irwin Theatre was a delight of moods, colours and exotic rhythms.  The powerhouse violin and piano duo of Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu took the audience on a marvelous tour of French music. They played beautifully and energetically, with Mr Chiu providing a clarity of texture and warm tone from his first sensitive touch on the keyboard, and Mr. Crow warming our hearts with a sumptuous and lyrical violin sound throughout the evening.

Jonathan Crow, a native of Prince George, BC, earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 1998 from McGill University, was co-Concertmaster of the Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal from 2002-2006 and has been Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 2011. He is Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Toronto and has performed all over the world as a chamber musician. Philip Chiu, inaugural winner of the Mécénat Musica Prix Goyer, has become one of Canada’s leading musicians and is known for his brilliant performances, sensitive listening and a stage presence which engages the audience. He concertizes extensively across North America as well as in France, Japan and the United States. Both musicians have a gift for communicating with the audience.

The Sonata in A Major, op. 39 (1850) by Louise Farrenc is in four movements. As a woman composer and pianist, rare in the 19th century, she paved the way for women composers and performers today.  Jonathan Crow rather humorously mentioned that in Louise Farrenc’s time, French concert-goers didn’t care much for French music, so she patterned her style of composition on the German style, represented by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. The first movement has a pastoral feeling reminiscent of the first movement of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata. In the Scherzo-Allegro, the rhythm is very complex and the tempo very fast bringing on an urge to get up and dance. The third movement is a lovely lyrical Adagio, demonstrating Farrenc’s gift of melody reminiscent of Mozart.  The final Allegro is a graceful, melodic movement with the piano and violin taking turns with the melodic lines.

In his introduction to the second part of the program, Homage to Heifetz, Jonathan Crow commented that in the late 19th and early 20th century, French audiences loved French music but French composers loved composing music of other countries, especially Spain, Brazil and other Latin American countries, which gave the audience another chuckle. The compositions in this section, including Brasileira from Scaramouche by Darius Milhaud, Beau Soir by Claude Debussy, and Excerpts from An American in Paris, by George Gershwin, were all composed for various instrumentations and arranged for violin and piano by the great American violinist of the 20th century, Jascha Heifetz.

The second half of the concert was comprised of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, op. 13 (1875) by Gabriel Fauré.  This sonata was a great success at its première, with Fauré himself playing the piano.  It opens with an Allegro in Sonata form, continues with a beautiful Andante with the violin singing a barcarolle, a traditional melody of Venetian gondoliers, at the beginning.  The third movement is a scherzo, a lively playful dance with complicated rhythms and pizzicati (plucked strings), paired with a lyric Trio.  The Finale is another Allegro articulated with loud outbursts and syncopated rhythms.  In this music, there are many tonal and harmonic  colours, with some audience members seeing actual colours in their imaginations, stimulated by the music.

The audience went away thoroughly satisfied with the feast of music which was presented by these first-class musicians.

Karen Krout is a retired violinist and teacher who is fortunate enough to continue playing
chamber music with friends, truly the highlight of every week. She is inspired by the high
quality performances of internationally known musicians featured
by Chamber Music Kelowna and other arts organizations in Kelowna and the surrounding area.

Charles Richard-Hamelin – October 28, 2022

With a few clicks of a mouse we can instantly access concerts or recordings of the best performers from the whole world. This music can be transmitted through amazing speakers in the comfort of our own home. No fear of exposure to germs. But on Friday evening, Chamber Music Kelowna gave us an opportunity to be present at a piano recital given by Charles Richard- Hamelin, originally from Joliette, Quebec and winner of the Kristian Zimmerman prize at the 2015 Chopin competition.

Robert Schumann said: “To transmit light into the depths of the human heart: this is the artist’s mission.” This unimposing, gentle and personable pianist presented a concert that allowed our hearts to be deeply touched.

The recital presented the works of two composers, Ravel and Chopin, opening with the oft-performed “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (1899). It was instantly evident that we would experience Ravel’s unique use of impressionist colour. The music breathed so we could absorb the beauty of the phrases, and the dynamic range was carefully contained with the pianist’s seamless use of the una corde pedal.

The major work of the Ravel offerings was the “Tombeau de Couperin” (1914-1917). This collection of pieces (suite) honours the legacy of the Baroque composers, and each part is a tribute to a fallen soldier. Here we experienced the total range of Charles’ pianistic skill. From my point of view, the three dance-inspired movements, Forlane, Rigaudon and Minuet, were outstanding. Here we clearly heard the rhythmic character of each dance with Ravel’s unique harmonic language highlighted with care by the soloist. The “Toccata” that ended this first half is a tour-de-force. Chopin said; “Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties.” That is certainly how Charles made it seem.

After intermission, all 24 Preludes of Chopin’s Op.28 (1835-39) were the featured work. From the outset it was evident that the tonal palette for these preludes was going to be different than what we had heard previously, and would represent the emotional essence of the genius that was Chopin, who stated, “a well-formed technique, it seems to me, is one that can control and vary a beautiful sound quality.” Throughout the range of emotion, ideas and images of these preludes, I was captivated by Charles’ ability to adjust to the quixotic changes required as he moved from one piece to the next and often with only a breath in between. It was evidence of his connection to and understanding of the music of Chopin.

There were many highlights during these 40 minutes: the projection and unfolding of the cello line in the B Minor prelude, followed by the gentle but rhythmic assurance in the A Major prelude, to mention just two. In the bravura pieces we were once again reminded of Charles’ range of pianistic skill.

The audience was rewarded for its enthusiastic standing ovation with the Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2. The melodic line unfolded gently and freely over the very secure and flowing left hand, making what Chopin told his students about rubato evident to this listener. All the ornamental flourishes were shaped with care and reminded me of all the hard work that had been done to prepare this heart-felt performance.

The program notes were a treasure-trove of wonderful information, and Charles’ introductory commentary gave personal insights into the pieces and composers.
Joe Berarducci resides in sunny Kelowna B.C. where he teaches piano and co-directs the children’s choir at the Community Music School. 

Marina Thibeault and Corey Hamm – May 27, 2022

Chamber Music Kelowna capped off their 42nd season on Friday with an intimate recital featuring violist Marina Thibeault and pianist Corey Hamm. A near capacity audience filled the Mary Irwin Theatre at the Rotary Centre for the Arts for this recital, and the gratitude felt by both the audience and the performers to finally be gathering again to share live music together was palpable.

The program opened with Franz Joseph Haydn’s Divertimento D major. While originally written for baryton, viola, and cello, the version performed by Thibeault and Hamm was the transcription made by the prominent cellist Gregor Piatigorsky who is well known for expanding the cello repertoire by transcribing works by earlier composers for the instrument. While the transcribed version only loosely resembles Haydn’s original composition, Thibeault and Hamm captured the wit and charm that is so characteristic of the music of Haydn.

The program continued with the Sonata for viola and piano, op. 240 by the French composer Darius Milhaud. Comprised of four short movements: Entrée, Français, Air, and Finale, this work fuses the contrapuntal and dance form structures of the baroque era with the emerging polytonal harmonic palette of mid-20th century France.

Of particular note was the second half of the concert which was dedicated entirely to the music of the British/American violist and composer Rebecca Clarke. Thibeault’s extensive onstage remarks about Clarke clearly conveyed not only her passion for Clarke’s music but also her depth of knowledge of Clarke’s personal and professional life; Clarke being one of the few internationally recognized female performers/composers of the 20th century. Even though it is widely acknowledged that the classical music world of today is actively striving to evolve away from its patriarchal past, it is still all too rare to see music by female composers included on mainstream concert programs, let alone have the entire second half of a concert dedicated solely to the music of one single female composer. Thibeault and Hamm certainly deserve credit for presenting just such a program to Kelowna audiences; programming whose time has certainly come.

The evocative and ethereal piece Morpheus by Rebecca Clarke opened the second half of the recital. Premiered by Clarke herself in New York City in 1918, she originally presented this work under the nom de plume of “Anthony Trent” so it would be better accepted by critics and audiences at the time (just one example of the many challenges Clarke faced being a female composer in the early 1900s).

The evening concluded with Clarke’s Sonata for viola and piano. Believed to have been written in 1919, this expansive three movement work showcased Thibealult’s outstanding technical and musical abilities as well as Hamm’s always sensitive and collaborative approach. While arguably reminiscent of the music of Ravel or Debussy, this work clearly highlighted Clarke’s unique voice as a composer and the plainchant-like opening of the 3rd Movement in particular was beautifully interpreted by both artists.

Friday night’s concert was well received by the CMK audience and the artists garnered two well-deserved curtain calls at the end of the performance.

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based free-lance musician, educator and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.

Viano String Quartet – April 29, 2022

As Chamber Music Kelowna continues its 42nd season the Kelowna audience had the pure joy
of hearing the Viano String Quartet, the winners of the Banff International String Quartet
Competition in 2019. The group was formed in 2015 at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in
Los Angeles and their name comes from the fact that the names of the instruments begin with
a “v” and like a piano they act as one instrument playing both melody and harmony.

The musicians are Lucy Wang and Hao Zhou, violins, Aiden Kane, viola, and Tate Zawadiuk,
(violon)cello. In the Viano the two violins share the roles of first and second violin, which seems
to strengthen both individuals and the quartet as a whole. The violist Aiden Kane turned to the
audience whenever she had thematic material and allowed her beautiful, mellow viola sound to
fill the hall.

The concert opened with Strum: Music for Strings by Jessie Montgomery, a New York
violinist/composer. It began with a bluesy pizzicato (plucking the string) performed by the very
expressive violist Aiden Kane, setting the mood for a distinctly American folk style and
abounding with energetic dance rhythms. The texture was rich and dramatic with the
musicians rapidly switching back and forth from pizzicato strumming and picking to arco (using
the bow). The Viano, with Hao Zhou taking the part of first violin in this piece, is particularly
adept at playing the rhythmic, jazzy style.

The second work of the evening, Sergei Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2 “on Kabardinian
Themes” is quite relevant for our turbulant times, as it was written during a period of great
turmoil and personal suffering when Prokofiev was evacuated to a Kabardinian town following
Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. At the suggestion of the local government
Prokofiev employed rhythmic and harmonic features of the traditional Kabardino-Balkar folk
music of the region. The musicians excelled in the dramatic, energetic, angst-filled percussive
sections as well as in the melodic sections where they demonstrated a gorgeous singing tone.
The texture was clear and perfectly balanced so that the structure of the music was evident to
the audience. The cello cadenza in the the Andante molto of the third movement was very
beautifully and expressively performed by Tate Zawadiuk. The first violinist in this piece was
Lucy Wang, who played with a beautiful soaring tone and great technical prowess.

On the second half of the program the musicians performed Alexander Borodin’s Quartet # 2,
which is famous for its slow movement Notturno or night music. The two violins blended
beautifully in the lovely contrapuntal treatment of the melodic material, with Lucy Wang playing
first violin. The audience gave a standing ovation at the conclusion of the dramatic and very
aggressive Finale, earning a surprising encore, the Michael Jackson song Smooth Criminal
which the Viano musicians had arranged themselves. Hao Zhou played first violin in this
dramatic performance which again demonstrated the jazz abilities of the performers, including
a wonderful and laid-back improvisation near the end by violist Aiden Kane. The audience
rewarded the encore performance with another well-deserved standing ovation accompanied
by cheering from the crowd.

In keeping with Chamber Music Kelowna’s commitment to outreach in Kelowna, the Viano
performed at Casorso Elementary School for first, second and third graders who were a most
attentive audience with great questions, a tribute to the music teacher Laura Mireau and the
quartet for inspiring the children.

Karen Krout is a retired violinist and teacher who is fortunate enough to continue playing
chamber music with friends, truly the highlight of every week. She is inspired by the high
quality performances of internationally known musicians like the Viano String Quartet featured
by Chamber Music Kelowna and other arts organizations in Kelowna and the surrounding area.

Ana Vidovic – March 11, 2022

One of the first indications we may be getting back to some sort of normal life following the COVID-19 pandemic is the re-emergence of live music. Chamber Music Kelowna is celebrating its 42nd year of presenting top quality chamber music to Okanagan audiences. The second concert of the 2021-22 season was a rescheduled performance (postponed from last season) by the Croatian guitar virtuoso Ana Vidovic.

Briefly, the sold out audience was treated to a solid and professional performance by one of the world’s top echelon classical guitarists.

Vidovic has been performing internationally since she was 11 years old and has an impressive list of top prizes in major competitions, orchestral appearances and successful recordings.

She has been a champion of adding new works to the solo guitar repertoire and frequently features works by Croatian composers in her programs.

Vidovic turned to a more traditional selection of works for her Kelowna concert on March 11, including some of the best known staples in the guitar canon.

J.S. Bach wrote an unaccompanied Partita for flute, here expertly arranged for guitar by Valter Despalj. Her rich tone and easy virtuosity were evident from the first notes, making sure the flute part had the right amount of prominence and using her excellent dynamic control and clarity of touch to capture the serenity of the sarabande and the rhythmic bounce of the Bouree Angloise.

Fernando Sor composed a large catalog of quality works and was a renowned performer in the first decades of the the 19th century. His op. 9 Variations on a theme of Mozart is one of the most frequently played of any classical guitar works and was played with the right amount of delicacy and fire.

Another virtuoso composer/performer of that era was Mauro Giuliani. The operatic flair of Rossini was ever present in her brilliant reading of his Grand Overture.

Following the intermission, we were treated to another classical guitar staple, the Sonatina by Federico Moreno Torroba. Although not a guitarist, Torroba wrote a substantial amount of quality guitar works. The Sonatina is filled with the rich harmony and Hispanic melodic charm typical of Torroba’s style. Her performance of the middle movement, in particular, had a translucent beauty and she made full use of the guitar’s tonal colour variation.

Agustin Barrios is a fascinating figure in the guitar world. He toured extensively throughout South America in the first decades of the 20th century and was the first guitarist to make a recording. One of his final works, the Limosna por el Amor de Dios (alm for the love of God) features the tremolo technique, which was strong, steady and expressive in Vidovic’s hands.

Venezuelan guitarist/composer Antonio Lauro wrote a substantial collection of Venezuelan waltzes, a captivating hybrid of European and African influences, delivered once again with an appropriate lightness and rhythmic drive.

Another work by Giuliani closed the program, the one-movement Gran Sonata Eroica. The delighted audience responded with a spontaneous standing ovation and a hope to have the opportunity to welcome this master musician back to the Okanagan in the future.

The next concert in the CMK series is the Viano String Quartet on April 29, tickets available at the Rotary Centre for the Arts box office.

Kelowna based Alan Rinehart has five decades of experience as a classical guitarist, teacher and recording artist. He co-developed the guitar performance program at the University of British Columbia.

James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong: Duo masters Beethoven- January 23, 2020

Chamber Music Kelowna certainly hit the right chord on Monday night, welcoming back two outstanding musicians to the stage at the Mary Irwin Theatre; violinist James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong.

Ehnes is no stranger to Kelowna audiences having made three previous appearances with Chamber Music Kelowna, and has the distinction of being the Honorary Patron for the organization’s 40th anniversary season in 2019-20.

Returning to the stage alongside Ehnes was his long-time colleague and friend, pianist Andrew Armstrong. The program consisted of three of Beethoven’s celebrated sonatas for violin and piano, which were the perfect repertoire match for these two incredible musicians.

Those patrons lucky enough to score tickets to this memorable concert were most certainly awed not only by Ehnes’ gorgeous tone and flawless technique, but by the versatility and clarity of Armstrong’s playing as well. The Steinway piano on the stage at the Rotary Centre for the Arts sounded like a completely different instrument under Armstrong’s fingers and it is unfortunate that Kelowna lacks a grand piano equal to the calibre of such an artist.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 30 No. 1 opened the program. Written in 1802, this work pre-dates the tumultuous phase Beethoven was about to enter as he struggled to come to terms with his increasing deafness. An absolute master of dynamic contrast, Beethoven crafts every phrase with meticulous detail and Armstrong and Ehnes navigated this witty work with ease and virtuosity.

The first half continued with the Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2. Considerably more brooding and dramatic than the previous six sonatas, this work is almost symphonic in scope given its four-movement structure. Of special note was the Adagio cantabile movement played with tender poise by both musicians.

The Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”) consumed the entire second half of the program. This massive work is a culmination of Beethoven’s efforts through his 10 violin sonatas to establish the piano and violin as equal partners (in many cases even allocating the piano a more significant role than the violin), which deviated significantly from the treatment of the form by his predecessors.

Although dedicated to the great French violinist Rudolf Kreutzer, this sonata was ironically never actually performed by him.

As Ehnes elaborated on in his onstage remarks, upon receiving the manuscript Kreutzer pronounced it “extraordinarily incomprehensible” and promptly filed it away.

This work demands concerto-like virtuosity and stamina from both players and despite its extravagant structure, it also contains plenty of nuance and intimate conversation between piano and violin which was masterfully captured by Ehnes and Armstrong.

After an immediate standing ovation, the duo returned to play the slow movement, Adagio molto espressivo, from Beethoven’s beloved Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”). SW

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based freelance musician, composer, educator, and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.

St. Lawrence String Quartet Chamber Music Kelowna – November 2, 2019

               Marking their 40th Anniversary, Chamber Music Kelowna continued their season-long celebration in fine style Saturday night by hosting a return visit from a perennial audience favorite, the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Having made their first appearance with CMK in 1997, founding members, first violinist Geoff Nuttall and violist Lesley Robertson have become well-known to Kelowna audiences, along with cellist Christopher Costanza who joined the group in 2003. Saturday night’s concert marked the first appearance in Kelowna for the newest member of the quartet, second violinist Owen Dalby.

               This season the SLSQ is marking their own milestone of 30 years since the quartet was formed in Toronto in 1989; even after over a quarter-century of touring internationally and establishing themselves as veterans in the string quartet world, the SLSQ has managed to retain a sense of youthful exuberance and reckless abandon that is rarely seen in established ensembles today.

               The program opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in D, Op. 76. No. 5. After sweeping onto the stage to hearty applause from the packed house at the Mary Irwin Theatre, Nuttall immediately launched into an enthusiastic preamble about F. J. Haydn, who both founded and (according to Nuttall) perfected the string quartet genre. The ensemble’s colourful interpretation and riveting performance had the audience on the edge of their seats for the duration of this four-movement work. Thanks to the auditorium lights being only partially dimmed, and the unfiltered musical enthusiasm and theatrical charisma emanating from the stage, the audience was spared the usual dozing and general classical music stupor that too often settles in at such concerts.

               The Haydn was followed by the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 112 by Camille Saint-Saens, a somewhat rarely played masterpiece from 1899. Very symphonic in nature, this work gave all the members of the quartet a chance to shine. The lyrical third movement garnered some unexpected and spontaneous applause from the audience, and while rattling some of the stalwart concertgoers, the SLSQ was un-fazed and launched head-on into the fiery and relentless fourth movement that concluded this dramatic work.

               The concert closed with Beethoven’s final string quartet Op. 135, No.16. Nuttall described this work as a “distillation of the classical string quartet” and Beethoven’s use of the “Muss es sein?” motif has led many scholars to suggest that Beethoven was intending this work to be a “summation of the human experience.” This was certainly a highlight of the program and the quartet’s mastery of ensemble really shone in this performance.

               After an enthusiastic standing ovation, the SLSQ returned to the stage to perform a poignant encore, the second movement from Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76, No.3 the “Emperor” which brought the evening full circle.

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based freelance musician, composer, educator, and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.