OCTAGON review by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents
OCTAGON
Walter Hall, University of Toronto

The Palladian light of Haydn shines through the bars of Beethoven’s “Septet, Op. 20”. It is a Serenade serenely performed in a garden for the elite who take their ease under porticos or stroll where carven marble fountains gleam. The parts are spaciously arranged so each instrumental voice shines briefly, like stars out of the general firmament of the orchestration. Most notable are the subtly graded tones of Joel Quarrington’s bass whose quiet utterance resonates like a force field yards from the stage.

Mayumi Seiler’s first violin parts are often gracefully echoed by the liquid crystal voice of James Campbell’s clarinet. As Beethoven’s score develops a contrapuntal relation of strings and winds (including horn), themes and motifs are passed between string ensemble and each of the winds in turn: the reassuring strands of George Zuckerman’s bassoon, the weightless voice of Ken MacDonald’s smooth horn lightly blown. The innovative Theme and Variations of the 4th movement allows Rivka Golani’s cutaway viola to exchange a pair of mellow opinions with Carole Sirois’ cello, followed by elegant asides from violin to clarinet, and clarinet to bassoon, while Quarrington plucks a walking bass line.

The final movement begins at an almost funereal pace with a horn solo that the violin picks up and whips lightly into a high spirited presto finale. This is Beethoven in the mood of Mozart.

Schubert’s “Octet”, with its second violin part played by Ben Bowman, is the more opulently scored piece, as if the setting had moved from the garden to the gilded concert hall richly carpeted and draped, with plush carved furnishings along the panelled walls. The opening movement, like Beethoven’s is a sonata form Adagio-Allegro, but Schubert changes key within the theme instead of setting a second theme. The clarinet introduces the Andante with a slow, lovely minor key melody supported by an independent bass part that recalls his “Trout” Quintet.

The lively Scherzo is rich with full-voiced string and wind choirs, a walking bass-line accompaniment for the cello, and rounds of wind solos circling the delightful clarinet. This movement seemed to be the audience favourite, though to judge by their collegial glances and happy grins, the musicians enjoyed the songlike light operatic 4th Theme and Variations.

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