La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Amici and Friends- Gravity and Grace

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

In more ways than one, no other small chamber ensemble is doing more than Toronto’s Amici to promote Canadian music and musicians.

Tishis was evident, once again, in the trio’s season-opening concert at Glenn Gould Studio Oct. 17.

Titled Gravity & Grace, the program began with core members Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) in Canadian composer Allan Gordon Bell’s Trails of Gravity & Grace, a piece the composer wrote for the Amici combo in 2002.

Valdepeñas, Hetherington and Kradjian gave the meticulously structured five-movement piece — AscentCascadeVirgaEphemera and Flight — a sophisticated reading. They brought out each spine-chilling nuance and every tonal imagination opportunity given to them in the score, all the while demonstrating the natural beauty of the trio setting that isn’t heard nearly enough in concert halls.

As Amici tradition would have it, the next piece on the program saw a friend in Valdepeñas’ seat. Kradjian informed the audience that while Liszt isn’t usually associated with chamber music, the group wanted to celebrate his upcoming 200thbirthday in 2011. So they dug up a manuscript discovered 15 years ago and performed Liszt’s arrangement of his own Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 for piano, violin and cello.

Violinist Benjamin Bowman, associate concertmaster with the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and the newly appointed concertmaster with the National Ballet Orchestra, is a proven chameleon when it comes to switching hats on stage. The chemistry between him, Hetherington and Kradjian was unforced here; their bursting mix of sound á la Liszt was balanced and splendid even though the mediocre arrangement lacks the crispness, elegance and caprice of the original piano version.

The concert concluded with Schubert’s Tolstoy-long Octet in F major, D. 803 for winds and strings. The six-movement work featured Valdepeñas, Hetherington, Bowman, violinist Steven Sitarski, violist Teng Li, bassist Jeffrey Beecher, horn player Neil Deland and bassoonist Michael Sweeney.

Unlike Bell’s five-movement work earlier that is relatively short and sweet, Schubert’s octet is famous for its hour-long length, which sometimes, when the music wanders aimlessly, makes even the most loyal Schubert lovers sink a bit in their seats. But thanks to Amici and their friends, many of whom play together at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, this octet performance came across solid and had some of the most beautiful and creamiest sounds of the entire concert.

Personally, I would have been satisfied if the concert ended with the third movementallegro vivace, an absolute climax of the concert that had both gravity and grace.

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