Review by Ailine Hess
The Penderecki String Quartet performed last evening at McMaster University’s Convocation Hall. The quartet is celebrating 30 years as a quartet and 25 years in residence at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. The concert opened with the String Quartet in A Major Op. 41, No. 3. The composition was premiered in 1842. After studying the quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Schumann composed the 3 quartets of Op. 41. The third quartet became the most famous and popular. The opening movement was rich with lush, romantic sound. Melodic lines were effectively accompanied by pulsing, rhythmic harmonies giving forward motion to the performance.
The second movement, Assai Agitato, was an excellent contrast to the first movement lyricism. The third movement opened quietly as did the first. Clashing harmonies were well executed along with rhythmic accompaniments to the melodic line giving a sense of romantic drama. The finale opened gently and alternated between lyricism, technical prowess, and rhythmic drive. The quartet played with passion and with excellence as an ensemble.
The middle work, Oblique Light by Kelly-Marie Murphy, was commissioned by the Penderecki Quartet in 2016 in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial. They first performed the work in October 2016. It is meant to show Canada, a country of small population in a vast land. She was trying to envision light in our northern climate. The work was full of technical devices: up-bows with crescendi, trills, glissandi, harmonics, melodic lines with vibrato against accompanying material without vibrato, and end of fingerboard technique. It was exciting and, I imagine, a lot of fun to play. The quartet’s attention to detail led to a nuanced performance of a new and challenging work. Bravo to the quartet for the commission. The unexpected adds so much to ‘classical’ music concerts.
The concert closed with the performance of Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81 by Dvorak. The work was first performed in Prague in January, 1888. The pianist, Shoshana Telner, joined the quartet for this performance. She is an accomplished member of the faculty at McMaster. The Quintet began as a rewrite of an earlier work and became a new work. Nationalism became an influence in the Romantic Era and, at times, the music oozed with beautiful, folk melodies. This nationalism led to Kodaly and Bartok cataloguing folk songs and including these melodies in their own compositions.
The work opens with a lyrical melody in the cello accompanied by the piano. The melody reappeared many times in different instrumentation and varied with a more declamatory style. The Slavic influences were clear in the nuances and the sound of the Quartet and Piano were well integrated, balanced and almost orchestral. The second movement, Dumka Andante Con Moto, includes a Bohemian folk tune. It is reflective of an earlier work of Dvorak, the Dumky Trio. The accelerando, gradually faster, at the end of the movement gave a sense of excitement. The third movement, Scherzo Furiant, is a wonderful contrast. Fast, fun, yet furiant gave the ensemble a chance to balance the technical with the lyrical. There was again an accelerando but this did not come at the end but with the repetition. Dvorak was playing a joke on his audience. The finale was more in the style of the first movement and this time, the accelerando was indeed at the end and was an exciting finish to a wonderful concert.
McMaster’s Convocation Hall was an excellent venue with fine acoustics. A nine-foot concert grand by Steinway is a wonderful instrument for this or any concert venue. There was a second grand on the stage and a console organ. I would have loved to explore to look for more pipes. Hamilton is fortunate to have Hamilton Place which has 2 performance theatres but one should add Convocation Hall as a third venue.