Prize-Winners Play Music in the Afternoon reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, October 23, 2008, Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, Walter Hall.

Lately we are getting to know Hinrich Alpers, First Laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition of 2006, who also won major awards in Norway, Germany, Austria and the U.S. This summer we had the pleasure of hearing him share in a performance of Beethoven Violin Sonatas No. 6 and 9 at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. This afternoon he joined forces with Australia’s Tinalley String Quartet, the 2007 winners of the Banff International String Quartet Competition. Their combined performance of Shostakovich’s “Quintet for Piano and Strings in G Major” rocked my world.

Alpers’ solo this afternoon was Schumann’s “Piano Sonata in F sharp Minor, Op.11.” Alpers exhibits great care for the details of his performance, as his photograph shows. From his attack in Schumann’s opening bars one begins to understand that Alpers is a fiery player, in the mode of Martha Argerich, and that chief among his formidable gifts is sheer physical power. His response to the shifting moods, once he moves through the “Adagio” of the first movement into the “Allegro Vivace, renders them almost convulsive, marked by thunder and obsessive colourations. He makes the Steinway ring in the “Aria”, and the “Scherzo e Intermezzo” is bold in defining the powers of longing and the sense of doom that strive for dominance in Schumann’s music.

The Tinalley String Quartet are energetic, dramatic, with a gift for conveying the ardent feelings of a composition. Though playing with a visiting replacement in the first violin chair, this young ensemble showed what they can do with Mendelssohn’s passionate “Opus 13 in A Minor”. Apart from some sleepy bits during the “Adagio” which woke when it went up-tempo, the Tinalleys did some beautiful playing during the dance-like “Intermezzo,” and delivered stunning harmonies, especially in the viola, towards the end of that movement. Their “Finale” yielded a depth of tragic drama I had yet to hear. The quiet dignity of their conclusion was impressive.

Shostakovich’s “Quintet in G” is a stunning work full of fine inventions melodic, harmonic and rhythmic. Moods range from agonizing melancholy, ironic despair, passion both solemn and fiery, to raucous, boisterous, joyous knees-up gaiety. Shostakovich exploits the tone colours of every instrument successively in the “Fugue” and the “Intermezzo.” During the “Finale” strings weep, the cello pulses pizzicato like the tick of time that is echoed in the piano’s melting crystal drip. The movement ends with a kind of Russian “Bring in the Clowns” where sharp piano tones crackle over the strident strings like a firework display.

Hinrich Alpers and the Tinalley String Quartet will be taking this program on tour in the new year. A very good idea.

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