The String Quartets at Oceanside Classical Concerts

Oceanside Classical Concerts patrons braved the pelting rain and filled the Knox house on Saturday night, January 20.  Their determination brought high reward.

The Saguenay String Quartet (formerly The Alcan) from Quebec and the Lafayette String Quartet from Victoria (Artists-in-Residence at the University of Victoria) took the stage for this Parksville date on their BC tour.  The result?  Brilliant.

It was evident that the players in both quartets had created music together for a long time.  Their playing as an ensemble was meticulously tight.  The Saguenay foursome have played as a quartet for 29 years; the Lafayette are marking 33 years together…the same players for all those years.  It shows, for both groups.

The program’s opener, String Octet in F major, op 17 by Niels W. Gade was an easy-listening start to the evening.  It didn’t take long for the Oceanside audience to warm to the ensemble – rousing applause was unstoppable after the first movement.  The Scherzo was fun; clearly, the octet loved it, too, with playful back and forth and lively staccatos thrown into the mix.

The second work on the program was newly commissioned by the Saguenay Quartet – String Octet in G minor, op. 56, “The Letter”, I. Largo, composed by Airat Ichmouratov.  The piece is receiving its world premiere during this tour.  Here we have a work that deserves high praise, so much so that when the piece ended, there was almost a hushed pause before the audience allowed themselves to breathe and show their appreciation.  For yours truly, the work actually brought a tear…and rightly so.  The composition was inspired by “Letter from an Unknown Woman”, a novella by Stefan Zweig. It’s a sad story, full of angst, jam-packed with emotion, finishing with a ‘flat-line’ sense of the soul departing.  I won’t go into the details of the story here but suffice it to add that the playing was absolutely superb.

After intermission, the octet ended the program with Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E flat major, op 20.  The audience was told that it was perfectly ok to toss tradition by the wayside and applaud whenever, even after the first movement of a work – so, the audience did (for fun, but also because the playing was excellent!).  In the Scherzo (the 3rd movement), Mendelssohn’s  youthful spirit shone (he was 16 years old when he composed this work). The Presto (4th movement) was joyful and full of musical surprises, including hints of Handel from the Messiah.

A standing ovation for the players was well-deserved. The happy, patrons went back out into the still-pelting rain and, after a night’s rest at Parksville’s Beach Club Resort, the Saguenay and the Lafayette will head on to their next performance where another audience will be treated by the best.

Mary Leigh-Warden

A Night of Shining Brass – Nov. 25th concert featuring A Touch of Brass

ATOB-web3Rain was no deterrent for Oceanside Classical Concerts subscribers on Saturday evening, November 25 – the renowned quintet ‘A Touch of Brass’ played to a packed house at Knox.  The brass shone brilliantly – trumpets, Tom Shorthouse and James Littleford, French horn, Nick Anderson; tuba, David Sabourin; trombone, Jeremy Berkman – and the audience cheered, whistled, and honoured the five with a well-deserved, long standing ovation.

From the very outset it was clear that this would be an eye-popping program.  The proclamation presented in the opening number, Air Pour les Trompettes (JS Bach), set the tone with the celebratory piccolo trumpets.

Tight phrasing and breathtaking dynamics showed the quintet’s long-term relationship as a group. Canzon Gallicam (S Sheidt) followed by Three Pieces (L Maurer) paved the way for two outstanding works from the world of opera – Susanna’s Aria (from la Nozze de Figaro, WA Mozart) and Musetta’s Waltz (from la Boheme, G Puccini).  Trombonist Jeremy Berkman described how it felt to be a player down in the pit, playing in the Vancouver Opera Orchestra (all five of ATOB play for the Opera Orchestra).  “We can’t see anything from down there.  We have no idea what’s happening onstage.  So the music tells us the story. Music, to us, is the story.”  Indeed, so it is.

Canadian Folk Song Rhapsody (Traditional, arr. G Leader) completed the first half of the show.  Set to influences from Eastern Canada and, therefore, Europe, the heartfelt stories here were of the swells of the seas, the jigs and the flings, and the memories of the moors.

The show’s second half opened with Rondeau (JJ Mouret), a piece recognizable by many who were fans of tv’s Masterpiece Theatre.  The quintet’s version left no doubt in anyone’s mind that there could be none better.

Scherzo (J Cheetham), in all its intricate liveliness, led to the Eastern European Russian Sailor’s Dance (R Gliere, arr. David Sabourin, a founding member of A Touch of Brass, 40 years ago).  In Dave Sabourin’s words, “This piece is intended for a 180-piece orchestra.  Here is our version!”

A set of three pieces by M Calvert, in reference to the hills from Mont Royal in Quebec to Vermont, the Suite from the Monteregian Hills played through pomp and circumstance to melancholy to waltz-for-fun.

Triste (J Townsend) slowed the pace and washed over the audience in deep hues of blues and violets.  The story here, sadness.  But sadness with a quiet hint of hope and light.

The program’s final offering was a perfect medley of music by George Gershwin (arr. D Sabourin), Gershwin in Concert, wrapped beautifully with muted trombone and muted trumpet.

A rousing standing ovation brought the quintet back for Shepherd’s Song, a superb  finish.  The audience made their way out to the rain, smiling and knowing they had just witnessed the best of the best.

Article written by Mary Leigh-Warden