Final chance to enjoy Cecilia String Quartet
Group shows at Honens Festival 2017 exactly why they will be missed
While the second major event in the Honens Festival 2017 included the previous winner of the competition, Luca Buratto, this concert was principally devoted to music for string quartet, performed by Canada’s Cecilia String Quartet.
The quartet shot to prominence following their win in the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2010, and for the past few years they have performed widely and also served as the ensemble-in-residence at the University of Toronto.
But for various reasons — almost certainly including a saturated market in professional string quartets — the group has decided this is their last year as an ensemble. This concert was a final opportunity to sample and enjoy what they have brought to the Canadian music scene: compelling performances of the standard repertoire, as well as new works by Canadian composers.
Friday’s program opened with Haydn’s Lark quartet, Op. 64, No. 5, a cheerful piece based on a gracious melody and charming 18th-century manners. As a performance, it showed off the fundamental excellence of the quartet in matters of balance, blend and ensemble.
The individual members are remarkably well matched in their approach to technique and conception of tone, and rhythm; and together they produced as charming an account of this work as I have heard live in many years. The rhythmic profile of the music was remarkably buoyant and the textures were lucid and balanced. The spirit and temperament of Haydn’s music suits the performers, and one could only have admiration for the high level of accomplishment demonstrated here, with all elements of the music fitting beautifully together.
The middle part of the program included two Canadian works; one with piano, the other for strings alone. The work for strings was the String Quartet No. 3 by Katrina Curcin, a Serbian-born composer who completed her studies in Toronto and lives there. The work is an imaginatively conceived, one-movement piece with plenty of contrast and with strong, distinctive musical ideas.
The Cecilians offered a persuasive account of this work, one that presented the rough textures without compromise, but also found the lyricism contained in the work. This is music that requires sophistication in performance, and this was most certainly on display here.
The other work was Lawren S. Harris Suite for Piano Quintet by Vancouver composer Stephen Chatman. Although he is best known for his choral music, Chatman’s piece, consisting of musical vignettes based on famous paintings from Harris (one of Canada’s Group of Seven), made a strong impression, especially the fanciful and fleet middle movement.
The opening movement, a musical portrait of Harris’s Isolation Peak, was much in the style of the later Aaron Copland with its spare, open dissonance-laden chords. The final movement quotes a fragment of Rossini’s Stabat Mater, elaborated with unusual harmonies. As with the other Canadian work, Chatman’s work was offered with sympathy and understanding, the performers completely in tune with the music.
Here, Luca Burrato was the pianist, his projection of the textures and sound world of the music idiomatic and nicely blended with the other performers. Praised for his collaborative work during the competition, he showed once again he responds remarkably well to the context of blended work.
The concert concluded with an energized account of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D major, Op. 44, No. 1, a work that can also be heard on the group’s most recent CD.
The CD version is competitive with the best out there; the same qualities that marked their Haydn playing nicely transferred to Mendelssohn. This was, perhaps, the most satisfying of all the works presented in a concert that showed why the group will be missed.
The Cecilia String Quartet has said this is their last year performing together.