CECILIA STRING QUARTET by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, March 22
Music Toronto presents
CECILIA STRING QUARTET
Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto

This ensemble develops a lot of excitement. Their programme includes dramatic pieces built on extreme contrasts of mood, tempo, and dynamics. Kelly-Marie Murphy’s 4th String Quartet anatomizes the action of the heart as it moves from the sustained ethereal notes of spiritual contemplation that float and melt ‘morendo’ to the staccato, presto, full-tilt adrenalin rush of nervous panic—from calm Komorous to frantic Katchaturian, so to speak.

Beethoven’s 2nd ‘Rasumovsky’ quartet opens with the drama of a chord that drops like one shoe and holds a pause until the next one follows. This motive develops into a theme that drives forward brusquely with locomotive force, into the next ‘Adagio’ movement which Caitlin Boyle’s viola introduces with a melody as sweet and innocent as music’s patroness, Cecilia, singing in prayer on her wedding for exemption from her conjugal duties.

Shostakovich’s 9th Quartet is typically by turns tortured, airy, enigmatic, solemn, harsh, bouncy, melancholy, and also manages to rock like Heavy Metal. Prominent in the ‘Scherzo’ is a passage that recalls the galloping theme from the “William Tell Overture” going like a heart in mild tachycardia, above 130 bpm.

There were many highly pleasurable moments: The ensemble work of the introductory bars of Beethoven’s last movement, and the finale which definitely created a ‘Wow’ effect; Rebecca Wenham’s cello work in the second movement of Shostakovich, and in tandem with the viola during the final movement of the Murphy. The close collaboration of violinists Saran Nemtallah and Sharon Lee; The electrifying pizzicato passage just before the recapitulation of Shostakovich’s finale.

The audience received their offering with wild enthusiasm, and as an encore, the Cecilia replayed their highlight—Kelly-Marie Murphy’s second movement–marked ‘Aggressively.’ The Cecilia Quartet demonstrated skillful technique and timekeeping in presenting this demanding programme, as well as a willingness to get emotionally involved with the dramatic turns of the music. Their depth of interpretation and coherence of effect will certainly develop in the interval before we get to hear them on this stage next season.

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