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