Review by Judith Caldwell
Five @ the First again held their annual fundraising Cello Extravaganza in aid of Blooms for Africa and the Ann Vallentyne Scholarship for string players. This year 26 cellists performed in solos, duets, sextets and as a combined cello choir. The Extravaganza is in its fourth year and the choice of music and arrangements seems to get better each year. This year there was one piece written especially for the duo who performed it and several pieces arranged specifically for groups of cellos, including a quiet, thoughtful and rather romantic Requiem written as a cello sextet by David Popper. The cellists …
The afternoon began with Artistic Director, Rachel Mercer, playing a Prelude by Bach as a solo. Mercer was one of two musicians playing period instruments on loan from the Canada Council instrument bank – an opportunity only granted after a cross Canada competition – and the mellow sound of a beautiful instrument expertly playing Bach set the tone for the concert. Nadia Klein and Elspeth Poole followed with a couple of Friedrich Kummer duos where the lead and the support switched between the two. Then Rachel Desoer and Mercer played five very short amusing Hungarian folk tunes by Bela Bartok originally written for two violins, but hijacked for cellos this afternoon. All four of these cellists then played two extremely well-arranged tangoes by Piazzolla that swayed the room with South American rhythms.
The concert was off to a great start, then came VC2 Cello Duo (Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt) playing ‘Triumvirate’ written for them by Raphael Weinroth-Browne. This is a 9-minute piece apparently based on Beethoven’s G minor and it was busy, exciting with intricate rather Eastern sounding melodies with seamless swaps of lead, & support between the instruments. It demonstrated the instrument plus its capabilities that was expertly played. It was the stand-out piece of the day. Earning a well-deserved standing ovation.
The first half wrapped up with the sextet Requiem by Popper which was lovely and well received. After intermission, the 26-piece cello choir was on stage opening with a solo by 10-yr old Nirvaan Grewal, who is already the section leader of the HPYO concert orchestra, he played Tchaikovsky’s Chanson Triste accompanied by Erika Reiman on piano. The tone was beautiful and Grewal demonstrated a very mature control of his instrument. The whole afternoon had been Emceed by Treasa Levasseur who kept things moving well with her cheeky humour, Google notes and terrible musician jokes. Now it was her turn to sing accompanied by VC2. She chose her own composition ‘Shine Your Light’ dedicated to those whose light can dim occasionally. She has a big sound and her song was feisty, energetic and upbeat.
The remainder of the concert belonged to the cello choir starting off with a deep throated Train Whistle by Aaron Minsky which had a choo beat and a bluesy whistle, followed by a very straightforward, simple rendition of Bach’s Air on a G String. Prokofiev’s March from the Love of Three Oranges livened things up again with a creative arrangement for so many cellos. Then another new piece No 13 by Dutch composer Ernst Reijseger which had most playing the chorale while VC2 played free improv – which was unfortunately difficult to hear over the chorale – and ending with the cellists both playing and humming.
The concert wrapped up with Levasseur singing The River by Coco Love Alcorn accompanied by the cello choir with the audience singing the chorus – Levasseur was a good teacher and getting everyone involved with the music was profoundly moving and effective. It is no wonder these concerts sell out. The next Five @ the First concert is May 20th