Thursday, October 26, 2006 1:30 p.m.
I MUSICI DE MONTRÉAL baroque chamber orchrestra
Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

A performance that nudges your insight deeper into the musical code of a composition is a good performance. Yuli Turovsky conducting his I Musici de Montreal accomplished this clarifying nudge for me in “Chamber Symphony, Op 73a” by Dmitri Shostakovitch.

The piece is a transcription of Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No.3 in F Major, Op. 73”(1946), instantly recognizable by its insouciant opening theme. Being insouciant in the Stalinist USSR was hazardous. Music was supposed to be “transparent and understandable.” However, this piece is full of a kind of veiled mockery, creepy carelessness of correctness, and a sense that some standard or other is being burlesqued. These are the qualities that Turovsky seems to emphasize, particularly through the growl of the low register strings towards the end of the first movement.

He brings out the coded joke in the music, and the audience showed they got the joke by chuckling when the movement ended.

The work of transcription was done by conductor and violist Rudolf Barshai, a friend of Shostakovich and violist in the Borodin Quartet. This same transcription was performed and recorded by the Tapioloa Sinfonietta under the baton of Jean-Jacques Kantorow on the Bis label in a more lightly coloured version. In Kantorow’s version, you don’t quite get it as the ‘what, me worry?’ passages accelerate into staccato strains of desperation and outright panic. But Turovsky’s low register strings bring collective doom down on the plaintive, lyric voice of the violins. Nevertheless, this voice endures and persists in the end as a niggun-like melody, free from any dogmatic principles, that sings itself into a mood of ecstatic irrationality.

I was interested to find a high contrast of opinions during the interviews that took place at after the performance. Here, first, is M. Walker, violist with the York Symphony:

MW: Very precise, very well played, but the first violins are not communicating very well with the rest of the group. In the Sinphonia Toronto, the first violinist has something really special about her that kind of radiates through the group, and their conductor, Nurhan Arman is very personable—he gets out there and talks to the audience. Turovsky is not so sweet and it affects what goes on in the group. I Musici’s concertmaster, though she’s tremendously competent, she doesn’t seem to have a lot of real involvement with the music, in the sense of being genuinely overwhelmed by it. That is what Etsuko Kimura, concertmaster of the Sinfonia Toronto has. Other than that, the groups are very similar. And I have to repeat; I Musici’s playing is flawless. Turovsky’s conducting is conventional but very nicely done.

Here is what Bev Chernoff of Toronto had to say:

BC. I loved the program. Some of it I was familiar with, but I did not know Skalkottas and the “Five Greek Dances.” I enjoyed that particularly. I know I Musici from their CD’s and I think they are fantastic. They have a beautiful, mellow sound. Turovsky appears to me to be very enthusiastic and to be enjoying the music himself very much. That comes through his body language. The music he elicits from the group is very cohesive. His cello playing of de Falla’s “Spanish Folksongs” was very precise and, yes, emotional. I also noticed that during “Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances” several members of the ensemble looked like they were about to break out into dance.



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