Amici Ensemble:From Vienna to Prague reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, February 13, 2011. CBC Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.

Martinu’s Duo for Violin and Cello (1927) is an arresting virtuoso piece. The opening canon is a modal motif led by the cello in high register followed by the violin playing low. This kind of contrast is developed continuously as lyrical melodies clash with gritty, double-stopped dissonances; counterpoint of Baroque sprung rhythms vie with romantic harmonies that are succeeded by melancholy reflections, and duets where the violin screams lines over the cello’s obsessive tremolo.

The second movement Rondo takes off, con brio, in a swirl of motion.  Themes are handed back and forth between the players. David Hetherington executes a virtuosic cadenza that Yonathan Berick takes up for a few measures before they give the rapid-fire opening theme a swirl or two and close the piece. A delightful work, full of surprises, played with a real sense of life.

Quintet in D Major Op. 42 for piano, violin, clarinet, horn and cello (1893) by Zdenek Fibich is remarkable for its gorgeous tone colours. Neil Deland’s horn suggests the depths of forest during the idyllic pastoral that unfolds from the forceful opening. Serouj Kradjian’s keyboard opens an interlude of  ‘Romantic’, Lisztian passion. The rich texture waxes flamboyant, then drifts away to a perfectly timed conclusion.

The second movement extends the sense of Germanic arcadian idyll to a kind of steppe or prairie setting that becomes the locale for a celebration of rhapsodic emotion.  The part writing is intriguing and the harmonies are beautiful. Fibich was the first composer to include the polka in a chamber work, and its energy can be heard in the second ‘Trio’ of the “Scherzo” that is filled with dancy folk motifs. The final movement is symphonic in texture and bouncily festive in tone.

Sarah Jeffrey, oboe, and Michael Sweeney, bassoon sat in for Mozart’s Quintet in E flat major, K. 452 for piano and winds (1784).  It is full of sweetness and laughter, drama and the sound of voices raised in song. The parts go their rounds rising and falling like a coloured horses on a carousel carrying on their backs delighted children with intelligent faces.

The Amici Ensemble’s Atma*Naxos CD Armenian Chamber Music has been nominated in Juno’s Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble.

Please address your comments to stanley@showtimemagazine.ca

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