“Ensemble, Made in Canada”, 1

Review by Judith Caldwell
HCA Concert series offered a dream chamber music concert on the afternoon of October 15th, “Ensemble Made in Canada” – Angela Park, piano; cellist Rachel Mercer; Elissa Lee, violin and Sharon Wei, viola, -plus Scott St. John played two mighty piano quintets. The first half of the program showcased the first quintet for this combination ever written, Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in Eb major. Written for his wife Clara it was first tried out privately with Mendelssohn substituting for a heavily pregnant Clara, who loved it and later performed it many times. 
“Made in Canada”, post-concertIt is a work in four movements beginning with a lovely cello, viola melody, joined later by the violins.
The theme is presented in many moods and variants including a very dramatic combination of rippling piano and surging strings conveying high spirits. The second movement is more subdued although equally lovely. It is a funereal march with intensely urgent passages which ultimately resolve into a sense of peace. The very familiar scherzo is high spirited with ascending octaves for all instruments and two totally brilliant trios, then back to the main theme with such gusto and precision that the audience can’t help but acknowledge.
The finale is exhilarating, contrasting darkness and light in quick succession and revealing Schumann’s masterly craftsmanship and our quintet’s precise and joyful playing – despite the fact that the power failed during the finale. Thankfully Park and Mercer were using IPADs and the other three were near the front of the stage where there was some natural light. Window blinds were raised during intermission and the concert continued with natural light, although St. John joked that we could light candles for an authentic feeling for the 1887 Antonin Dvorak Quintet in A major. Another work in four movements, St. John mentioned in his introduction the democratic use of all the instruments which was very evident. Dvorak played viola and may have noticed that it is frequently cast in a supporting role so he gave each instrument it’s time to shine and show off. This much loved and very familiar piece opens with the cello playing the theme while the piano weaves arpeggios around it, the violins and viola bring in drama and urgency and the first movement ends with triumphant majesty.
The second movement begins as a quiet and thoughtful Dumka, then we slide into a Furiant, a Czech dance in frenetic waltz time. The finale is a polka that explores different rhythms and sounds effects for the instruments and finally returns to rollicking revelries set to wonderful tunes. The acoustics in the hall were good and allowed the ultra-precise ensemble playing to shine and the lack of power gave the concert a more intimate feeling. These musicians have played together often and clearly love this music.
Check out http://www.hcarts.ca for future concerts. 

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