Review by Judith Caldwell
For their first concert of the new decade 5 at the First had no less than twelve string players in a quartet, several duos and finally an octet. The program began with a quartet from the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Beth Cushnie & Elise deBlieck violin, Sarah Cushnie, viola and cellist Christiana Lammers playing the first movement of Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet in F major. This is a group of 16 & 17 year olds who have played together for about six months who played this difficult piece very well, especially once they overcame their initial tension and relaxed into the music.
Next came a duo of violinists, Hannah Corbett & Duncan McDougall, who are both young students of violinist Jonathan Crow. They played seven of the ‘more interesting’ duos of the 44 Duos for 2 Violins by Bela Bartok. These difficult pieces were played with mature assurance and offered a varied package of at times insistent, and at other times plaintive music. The turn of the violas came next. Theresa Rudolph and Caitlin Boyle are familiar faces to the 5 at the First audience and they played a Lament for Two Violas by Frank Bridges. A lament is a passionate expression of grief and this truly lovely piece was in three parts expressing different phases of grief. The capacity crowd loved it. Zoltan Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello was played by violinist Csaba Koczo ,and Rachel Desoer cello. It is a piece in three movements based on Hungarian peasant music and is a conversation between the instruments, a contrast between drama and melody, alternately harsh and then lovely. This piece required incredible skills from both performers, but the absolute stand out was Desoer’s cello. There was much audience buzz of appreciation at intermission.
After intermission Yehonatan Berick, violin & Rachel Mercer, cello played a piece by Alberta violinist Kristin Flores called ‘Release for Violin and Cello’. According to the composer this may have been its debut performance. It is a short, fun piece about a relationship blending strong words and humour, intensity and melody with a constant support for each other. At the finale a string from Berick’s bow broke & hit Mercer on the cheek, which seemed appropriate especially as it did no harm. The big piece of the day was Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E flat major which he wrote at age 16 and which remained his favourite composition. All four movements are extremely well known for good reason, they are all fun, interesting and beautiful music. Today they were played by Berick, Koczo, Corbett and McDougall, violins, Boyle & Rudolph, violas and Desoer and Mercer cellos. The opening allegro was so wonderful that the audience couldn’t resist applauding; the andante had the musicians smiling and by the end of the Scherzo everyone was enjoying the experience so much there was laughter. The final Presto was the icing on an already lovely cake. Unfortunately because it is an octet, this piece is not performed nearly often enough & the version heard today in Hamilton was definitely one to be remembered and savoured, it got a well deserved standing ovation. The concert showed why 5 at the First are so popular- new musicians, new music introduced well and old favourites masterfully played – wonderful beginning for a new decade.
Next concert: Saturday February 29th – Schubert’s ‘The Trout’