An Auspicious Peek at Next Year’s Montreal Chamber Music Festival
What’s the likelihood of being able to see a meticulously dynamic performance of Anton Arenski’s rarely staged String Quartet No. 2, Op, 35? This work – the only one in the string quartet repertoire for violin, viola and two cellos – was the pièce de résistance, a feast of low tonalities, at a private preview concert in midtown two nights ago for the upcoming Montreal Chamber Music Festival, scheduled for May 8-31 of next year. Whether this particular piece will make a reappearance onstage there is a mystery, but if the performance is any indication, this edition of the festival is going to be a hard-to-resist excuse for a Montreal vacation next May.
That the festival’s impresario, Denis Brott, is one of the world’s prominent cellists, gives the annual celebration an instant boost. He opened the night’s program, paired up with Benoit Loiselle (of Les Violons du Roy), for the Duet for Two Cellos, No. 1, Op. 22 by Friedrich August Kummer. This German composer was one of the 19th century’s prominent cellists and knew everybody from Beethoven through Brahms – and played their music, said Brott. Together, the former teacher and student gave the triptych a darkly dancing pulse through its animated counterpoint and stern, ambered passages. Brott then teamed up with violinist Giora Schmidt for a jaunty, rhythmic romp through four selections from Reinhold Gliere’s Eight Pieces for Violin and Cello.
Before the night’s full ensemble played the Arenski quartet, violist Barry Shiffman (formerly of the St. Lawrence Quartet), emphasized the festival’s role as crucible for musicians looking to make serendipitous connections with their fellow performers, not to mention the kind of alchemy that can result when like-minded players are inspired to join forces onstage. The implication, of course, was that this was a typical example. And much as the work has a brooding aspect that draws heavily on Russian Orthodox plainchant (and a familiar Tschaikovsky theme), it was a fun choice. The group could just as easily have done the Grosse Fugue – imagine the wheels turning, “why not, it’s a showstopper, a finger-bruiser, but everybody loves it?” But that would have been obvious. It’s good to see a group that wants to avoid the obvious, especially when it comes to music that’s a hundred years old or older. The full lineup for 2014’s festival isn’t up yet, but their website is here.
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