Penderecki String Quartet: Intra/Introspections reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, June 7, 2008. The Music Gallery

On a hot summer night, a concert of ‘new’ music with a breeze of mischief and humour blowing through it is cool news. We begin with pair of offerings for voice and piano by John Cage. Formally mocking form, composer/pianist Riccardo Piacentini and soprano Tiziana Scandaletti first adorn the silence with gestures and then perform strongly around a text of “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce.

The Penderecki String Quartet brought their exciting intensity to an important work by Riccardo Piacentini, his “For Four (Part IV) for String Quartet (1994).” The piece is a texture of horizontal and vertical elements, highly coloured and strongly contrasted in their details, as if irreconcilable differences were searching for agreeable combinations. Thus the music mixes pizzicato with discordant unison drone bowings, relaxed tempi churning into states of alarm, powerfully intense passages that dissolve into squeaking, gibbering, ghostly tones that fade away. One feels somehow involved in a personal confession and struggle against restraint, a journey towards unfetteredness.

Penderecki’s “String Quartet No.2 (1968)” that followed also expresses a sense of unrest, in this case political struggle of the late 60’s. My overall impression of the sonic landscape of this piece is the high whine of a swarm of mosquitoes out of which individual voices emerge at speed and with great intensity–an image that could be translated into stellar spaces. The piece has the energy of newness.

The String Quartet No.3 (2000) by Ada Gentile spatializes sound carefully so that despite its drive, the work achieves a sense tranquility and equilibrium that can be felt directly in the gut. In particular, Simon Fryer does his job at the cello with an eyes-open, heads-up style that contributes a wide-awake feeling to the music. Gentile’s “La giornata di Betty Boop for voice and piano (2006)” in five sections, has Piacentini at the piano wearing a tail, a dog collar and leash while Scandaletti outfitted like the cartoon character prances and sings to ‘Boby’ her doggie six funny texts by Sandra Cappelleto, leaving the audience in high spirits.

The most lyrical and accessible piece of the evening, Andrzej Panufnik’s “String Quartet No.3, Wycinanki (1997),” has five distinct focal areas, one for each movement, namely: volume, rhythm, pizzicato, virtuosic power, and expressive intensity. I especially liked the singing spirituality of the final movement with it’s rich-voiced wistful Bartokian harmonies. The final work of the evening, Piacentini’s “An Mozart for voice, string quartet, piano, ‘foto suoni’ (2008) which premiered here, also has some traditional elements, namely a couple of passionate Mozart’s songs behind Piacentini’s complex inventions.The work has great charm as well as novelty, and Scandeletti let out her vocal range to a great advantage.

Following this soundaXis event, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico was honoured by the League of Canadian Composers for her outstanding contribution to the musical culture of this country.

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