André Laplante and the Shanghai String Quartet at Chamberfest ’08 reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, July 26, 2008, Chalmers United, Ottawa.

André Laplante solo gave a distinctively thoughtful account of two Chopin compositions, the “Nocturne in F major, Op. 15.1″ and the “Fantasie in F major Op.49″. Both works alternate passages of sweetly melancholic notes that drop softly as tears, with passages where streams of turbulent passion burst their banks. Laplante’s deliberation in suspending the flow of the notes during the ruminative passages produced a limpid, tranquil effect that mastered the audience.  Particularly during the “Fantasie”, the more mature work, the hall was hushed, seemingly absorbed in a reverential mood.

Laplante vocalizes in a startling way when he launches into a forceful passage. His keyboard technique is astonishing, but I found his use of force, especially from the left hand, produced excessive vibrations, and an overly dramatic mood. His three sections from Liszt’s “Années de pélerinage, première année: Suisse”, were very exciting. He produced an incredible variety of textures, some very grainy, almost tweedy, where he used force. However, in this work, the force seemed to be used in concert with the deliberately thoughtful limpidity of his right hand.

André Laplante teamed up with the impeccable Shanghai Quartet for Robert Schumann’s groundbreaking and much played chamber composition, the “Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op.44.” The piano part, played at its premiere by Felix Mendelssohn, is very prominent, almost counterbalancing all four strings. This night, the force of the piano was beautifully absorbed during the opening ‘tutti’ by the lower strings, especially Nicholas Tzavaras’ cello which vibrated a sonority that at times verged on the erotic. The haunting arrangement of voices during the mournful march was punctuated by the constant popping of plastic water bottles that really should not be allowed into a concert hall.

In the “finale”, Laplante gave rein to the heavily accented muscularity of his style backed up by a storm of repeated notes from the strings. The movement concludes with a triumphant coda distinguished by a three-voice double fugue that pulsed like a living thing. For an encore, the ensemble replayed the glorious, high-powered “Scherzo”.

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