Review by Judith Caldwell
The 2016/2017 season of concerts in the 5 @ the First series began with String Extravaganza VI, a concert of two violins, two violas and two cellos played first as pairs and finally in a sextet. Yehonatan Berick & Csaba Koczo, violin; Caitlin Boyle & Theresa Rudolph, viola; and Rachel Desoer & Rachel Mercer, cello; are a group of friends who get together once a year to offer an expertly played varied program. This year began with 12 year old Tate Li playing the Sarabande from J.S.Bach’s Suite #4 in E flat major for cello.
E flat major is a difficult key for a cello requiring awkward hand stretches and the saraband is a slow stately piece that allows no room for mistakes and yet this serious, poised young man played it flawlessly on a cello with a beautiful resonant tone. I hope we will hear more from him in future.
The first duet was offered by Boyle and Desoer, and was a playful piece of interplay called the Eyeglasses Duo by Ludwig Van Beethoven. There are multiple stories about how it got its name, but it seems to have been written for Beethoven and a friend who wore eyeglasses to play it together. It is a lovely piece and one could see that the performers enjoyed playing it.
Next. a complete change of pace with Berick, violin and Mercer, cello playing Gary Kulesha’s Pro et Contra in 3 movements. Kulesha is a contemporary Canadian composer who was composer-in-residence for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and is currently teaching composition at the University of Toronto. Pro et Contra sounds like an argument for stringed instruments with ideas repeated upside down and backwards. It ranges from the soft breathing of the strings in the first movement, to busy buzzing sounds in the second and jagged pointilistic outbursts in the third movement before we get to an ultimate resolution. It is at times atonal and jarring, but Berick and Mercer were obviously having so much fun with it the audience tagged along and enjoyed the ride. Mercer had commented that the rehearsals had been ‘interesting’.
The final duet was Koczo, violin and Rudolph, viola playing Johan Halvorsen’s variation on a theme by Handel. Halvorsen was a Norwegian violinist who was married to the niece of Edvard Grieg. He wrote his variation as a Passacaglia, which means a repeated bass line, and this was carried by each instrument at times until we got used to it and then it was sometimes only inferred – but we could still hear it. It was lovely, lyrical, difficult and showy and expertly tossed off by Koczo and Rudolph. After intermission came the Sextet in D major by Erich Korngold who was an Austrian Jew who had the great good fortune to be invited to Hollywood in 1938 – just before Hitler annexed Austria. Korngold always claimed that Hollywood saved his life. He was pioneer in music for the movie and a lot of his music sounds vaguely familiar because it foreshadows much that was to come. The Sextet is in four movements and was written when Korngold was in his teens, but there is nothing immature about it. It begins with lively drama and very Viennese excitement, proceeds to a dark and moody Adagio played largely on the cello that conjures up meetings at midnight, then on to a Strauss like waltz that involves a conversation between the instruments, and finally to a playful and fiery Finale with dramatic flourishes and a showy end. The next concert is, October 29th with Darren Sigesmund Strands Ensemble (jazz).