Brahms Sextet at TSMF: Six (or four and a saw) are better than Four,
Alexander Kerr, Aaron Schwebel, Ani Aznavoorian, David Hetherington, Eric Nowlin and Steven Dann; Photo credit: James Ireland
The last regular concert of the TSMF proved to be a success this evening. The packed house appreciated all of the offerings.
Janacek's Sonata for Violin and Piano fit well with the theme of the festival; the composer hoped his country would be liberated by Russian troops and made that the program for at least part of the work. The piece is a study of contrasts in texture and sonorities, sometimes dissonant, sometimes pentatonic, sometimes melodic, sometimes percussive. Pianist Phil Chiu ably managed the military sound effects. Violinist Alexander Kerr was alternately lyrical and strident as the score demanded.
The audience enjoyed Our Finest Hour, the thought-provoking, Juno-award winning work by Chan Ka Nin, for piano (Chiu), cello (David Heatherington), violin (Barry Schiffman), and clarinet (Miles Jaques). I myself like lots of dissonance, which is the most expressive element of music. Dissonance is to music as spice is to food. Dissonance makes a bigger impression on sustaining instruments (strings or clarinet) than on the piano, on which it fades quickly. I wondered whether the strong dissonance would discourage the audience, but it did not. The descriptive titles for sections within the piece, e.g. ‘humanity’ or ‘inhumanity’ allude to large philosophical ideas broadly characterized. A brief excerpt from Churchill's speech played over a speaker on a crackly radio sound stood out in relief against the music. Jaques and Schiffman were particularly evocative.
After intermission two violinists (Kerr and Aaron Schwebel), two violists (Eric Nowlin and Steven Dann), and two cellists (Ani Asnavorian and Hetherington), took the stage to perform Brahms's Opus 18, Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major. The six instruments provided a variety of textures, and especially a very full, warm bass. Asnavorian was notable for her expressive solos. The sense of ensemble was excellent, all players precisely co-ordinated. Some of the harmonies typical of the composer's later works and rhythmic and metric ambiguities (in the Scherzo movement) emerged from the six-part texture.
The novel encore delighted all in attendance. The ensemble minus Dann returned, Heatherington holding his bow and, instead of his cello, a high-end rip saw in what appeared to be mint condition. The piece, the Catalan Lullaby that Pablo Casals played at the end of every concert during his self-imposed exile from Spain under Franco, fit the festival theme. Heatherington performed the melody soulfully if metallically and with plenty of vibrato, a fitting conclusion to this series.
Alexander Kerr, Aaron Schwebel, Ani Aznavoorian, Eric Nowlin
and David Hetherington; Photo credit: James Ireland
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Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON August 3rd 2018