TOKYO STRING QUARTET with JAMIE PARKER reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

May 10, 2007
Music Toronto
Jane Mallett Theatre

The Tokyo String Quartet gave a finely etched performance of Robert Schumann’s “String Quartet in F, Op. 41. No. 2”.

They treat the lyrical theme of the first movement with vigour, reflecting the abrupt mood shifts of the bipolar disorder that would eventually lead the composer to madness and early death.

The second movement is flowing; falling tones sigh through five variations of the theme, including a playful pizzicato passage and a mind-stilling viola solo by the Quartet’s founding violist, Kazuhide Isomura.

The scherzo is swirly, opening with a notable cello solo by Clive Greensmith, and bubbles along in bouncy, droney, plinky bits of violin arpeggios. The finale went wonderfully fast, with abrupt Beethovenesque change-ups jutting up like rocks among the clearly flowing lines of a Zen garden.

This closing concert of the 35th Season of Chamber Music Downtown was all Schumann, a solid choice of programme with variety in the textures. “Marchenbilder for viola and piano, Op. 113” is an initmate piece of writing. It depicts four fairytale scenarios. In the first, the viola initiates motives that the violin imitates creating a soothing mood as if an elegant pair of dancers were gliding across an enchanted ballroom floor only to fade away at the final pluck of the string.

The second bounces a bit like a horse racing through the “William Tell Overture”. It has a songlike structure, showy but good-natured and charming. The third is darker, more dramatic, with the viola buzzing like a bumblebee in virtuosic flight while Parker’s piano bubbles lightly behind towards an unresolved ending.

The finale is sleepy, dark and Mahlerish, with an authentically mysterious tenderness as if the music were moving us into the embrace of a languorous death.

The “Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 44” is the first major chamber work in this form that Schumann literally invented. Here Jamie Parker gets to display the force of his touch on Schumann’s almost celestially lovely melodies, developed with the Tokyo’s legendary ensemble work. Notable in this first movement are the closing moments like a dark bolt shot from the cello straight into the heart of the audience.

The second movement is a hesitation marche funebre that alternates with lyrical flowing passages, the piano tender, the viola gritty, making for a richly textured tapestry of sound that nicely balances variations with thematic repetitions.

The scherzo is fast, brilliantly built on bald piano scales. The finale is a toe-tapper, percussively treated by piano and strings, contrapuntal and varied, the parts always distinct, bringing forward the inventiveness Schumann employs in the service of his love of changes. Schumann’s humour also comes through.

One’s final impression of Schumann from this meeting of the Tokyo and Jamie Parker is bell-like clarity. They will meet again at Music Toronto next season.

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