Review by Judith Caldwell
The final concert in the 5 @ the First series presented a varied offering of music from the Baroque grandeur of Bach, to Rossini, to contemporary Canadian music and finally a rarely performed Vaughan Williams. The afternoon began with Joseph Phillips performing Bach’s Suite #2 in D minor for cello, transposed very effectively for bass. It is rare to hear a bass solo as it is often presumed to be a supporting instrument, but Phillips showed he could perform the very technically difficult Suite in an expressive manner on his wonderfully resonant instrument.
The Prelude is a slow, thoughtful lead into the six dances – Allemande, Courante, Saraband, Minuet I & II, and Gigue – each with their own tempo from stately to sombre, from lively to thoughtful, and all with the unmistakable stamp of Bach’s genius implying multi-voiced music in a single line.
Next came Rossini’s Duo for Cello and Bass in D major performed by Phillips and Rachel Mercer, cello. Although best know for his operas, especially the overtures, Rossini did accept the odd commission in later life and this Duo is one of them. It is in three movements, the first is busy and cheerful and introduces the range, extreme at times, of the two instruments.
There was a charming moment when the performers grinned at each other as they each in turn coaxed very high notes from their instruments. The second movement is slower, more like a beautiful aria and the finale is a wonderful romp which starts with the bass providing the rhythm and the cello the melody only to swap over later to joyfully display their virtuosity. The first half of the concert wrapped up with Ensemble Made in Canada – Angela Park, piano; violinist Elissa Lee, Sharon Wei on viola and cellist Rachel Mercer – playing a Canadian composition by Kelly-Marie Murphy, “Four Degrees of Freedom”, written in 1995. We were told this is a work about the tension between structure and freedom both in the natural world and in our lives. The structure was represented by a clock like tick, tock underscoring the freedom of each instrument as heard in the solos. It was at times dark and discordant, and at others melodic and free. The near capacity audience really liked it.
After intermission was Ralph Vaughan Williams Piano Quintet in c minor played by all five musicians. Vaughan Williams was well known as a collector of English folk songs many of which he included in his music, but his work is not at all bucolic, it is fresh and melodic while at the same time feeling substantial and solid. The Piano Quintet is in three movements ranging from the soaring Allegro con fuoco, to a beautiful, dreamy Andante and finally five variation on a folk theme culminating in an energetic up-beat finale. This was a very interesting, extremely varied concert played by masterful musicians and their audience loved it. The 2017/2018 season is online at http://www.5ATTHEFIRST.com