TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​

André Laplante; Photo credit: Peter Schaaf

A little over an hour following the first concert of the day, it was the Rolston String Quartet’s turn to delight a second sold-out audience at St. John’s Church. As has come to be expected with this youthful quartet, the programme included the familiar and the adventurous. The Rolston is made up entirely of alumnae of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School with its most recently appointed second violinist, Emily Kruspe now with the group. The other three members, first violinist Luri Lee, violist Hezekiah Leung and cellist Jonathan Lo are all founding members of the ensemble that came together in Banff in 2013 and made headlines three years later winning first place honours at the 12th Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), Astral’s National Auditions, and Grand Prize of the 31st Chamber Music Yellow Springs Competition. Most recently,they were the 2018 recipient of (and first international ensemble chosen for) the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America. Very quickly, they have achieved an elite status among the continent’s finest string quartets.

Yesterday’s program opened with Beethoven’s first composed quartet, String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3, a playfully delicate work that has a gentle sensibility in its Andante movement and a finale with unbounded joyfulness. They played with confidence, intimacy and accuracy. The musical lines were clear from every instrument. Their intonation was spot-on even in the most technical passages.

What followed was R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartet No. 2 “Waves”. This was no Water Music of Handel or even the ocean fury in Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. Schafer in the 1970s was increasingly troubled about the ambient sound environment of 20th century life. His books Ear Cleaning and The Tuning of the World were a testament to his concerns. His compositions like Epitaph for Moonlight invited the listener to hear new sounds representing the world and beyond. In this work, listeners were invited to use their imaginations’ ears for fifteen minutes or so to discover the sounds and noises on an ocean-side beach. Besides the wind and water crashing, there were seagulls screeching, cars zooming by and construction, probably another condo tower underway. Forty years since it was written (before the latest noises from computers, gaming, and iphones) it seems that we need his message  about the sound environment more than ever. Kudos to the Rolston String Quartet for reminding us.

The finale to the program was the masterpiece by Tchaikovsky, String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11. Here, the quartet showed its artistic and technical virtuosity. Luri Lee’s musical line in the famous Andante was a moment not to forget. Someone sitting behind me couldn’t help herself from humming along. This was indeed a thrilling performance, the frenzied finale drew a spontaneous standing ovation with shouts of bravo echoing through the church. Their encore, an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young arranged for string quartet was another crowd-pleaser.

Following, the Beethoven quartet, cellist Jonathan Lo suggested that if the audience enjoyed the performance, they would be delighted to return fifteen more times to perform the rest of Beethoven’s quartets. Based on yesterday's reception, the Elora Festival might just take them up on their offer.

The Elora Festival winds up today with The Majesty of Handel and Mozart in the Gambrel Barn. The Elora Singers, Festival Orchestra and Soloists will be conducted by newly appointed Music Director Mark Vuorinen. ​

André Laplante

Pianist André Laplante and the Rolston Quartet offer an afternoon double-header of great music at the Elora Festival!

Rolston String Quartet

The Elora Festival has for years featured Canada’s finest pianists and string quartets, and with them some very special musical moments. Last year, there was a Saturday double-header of concerts with pianist Angela Hewitt performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations followed by the Cecilia Quartet. Yesterday at St. John’s Church in Elora, the celebrated Canadian pianist André Laplante and the award-winning Rolston Quartet performed in back-to-back afternoon concerts. Could there be a better way to spend an afternoon? I don’t think so!

Rolston String Quartet; Photo credit: Bo Huang Photography

The last time I heard André Laplante was six years ago at Westben. On that occasion he overwhelmed the audience in a program of Liszt with his sense of the romantic. I was not disappointed therefore yesterday when he changed his program to include Franz Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, the passionate sonnet that Liszt first wrote for tenor and piano and then arranged as a piano solo, part of his Années de Pèlerinage II. The poetry describes the confused state that love has created. The poet’s joy and pain are expressed in episodes in the music with contrasting unexpected dramatic shifts, pauses and cadenzas. The pure romanticism opened a program of the sort of music that Laplante is known to be among the world’s finest interpreters.

Laplante followed the Liszt with a gentler Schubert Sonata in A major D. 664. Laplante’s ability to make the piano sing created the joyful spirit of the music. He turned the simplest musical lines into elegant strands of ribbon and made the most technically impossible passages sound easy.

Following intermission, Johnnes Brahms’ Sonata in F minor, Op. 5 became the main event of the program. Written in the year 1853 when Liszt was composing his B minor Sonata, Wagner was in the throes of The Ring of the Nibelung and just two months before Schumann had attempted suicide, the work is Brahms’ youthful statement that he had his own powerful voice to add to the Romantic period. Laplante squeezed every ounce of power that the Baldwin piano could provide. He reached into the music and touched its very soul.

Laplante concluded the concert with a short encore, Schumann’s delightful Kinderszenen, Op. 15. No. 1, Von fremden Ländern und Menschen. It provided a beautiful denouement to a riveting program.​

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 29th 2018

Rolston String Quartet