REVIEW: Octet gives twice the sonic pleasure

North Okanagan Community Concert Association review of string octet

James Leonard

Contributor

The concert began with Angela Zeng; a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at Kalamalka Secondary and a member of the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra since the age of nine. She showed confidence and skill as she produced a large bold tone on her cello for three unaccompanied Bach pieces-Prelude, Saraband and Gigue. Pianist Alex MacArthur joined her as piano accompanist for a lively Tarantella. She has come far after only seven years of study.

The combination of the Lafayette and Saguenay String Quartets proved to be a very successful venture. Their sound was very rich and full, never harsh even in the loudest sections.

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First on the programme was the octet by Danish composer Niels Gade (1817-1890). Gade was influenced by Danish folk tunes and an older contemporary, Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). The four movement String Octet in F op.17 may have been a tribute to Gade’s friend and mentor Mendelssohn. It was played with great precision and energy. Incidentally, an Octet isn’t just an expansion of a quartet. It changes texture randomly from any number of parts up to and including eight different parts. There were solos which randomly appeared in any of the parts. They were all brilliantly played.

The String Octet in G minor The Letter by Airat Ichmouratov (1973- ) was a type of tone poem following the story of a woman of poor birth and exceptional beauty, who spent her childhood living close to a well-off older man and eventually falling in love with him. After an encounter with him she conceived a son who died in childhood. The letter describing her unrequited love is delivered to the child’s father after her death. This piece was commissioned by the Saguenay Quartet and based on Stefan Zweig’s novella Letter from an Unknown Woman. It was full of anguished and rich harmonies appropriate to the story, but the long intro by one of the cellists before the piece disturbed the flow of the evening, and what he said was stated in the program anyways.

Actually at this point I would like to mention that there were too many announcements before and during the program – plus a presentation. All this added a half hour down time to the evening and detracted from the flow of the concert.

After intermission, The String Octet in Eb major op.20, written by the 16-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, was presented. The playing of this piece was excellent but this reviewer (through no fault of the performers) found the first movement overly long, maybe a young man trying to show off his skills? The next three movements were brilliantly played, bringing the evening to a sparkling ending. There was no encore, but the audience seemed satisfied with the bountiful musical offering from this stunning group.

The next concert is on Dec. 1 and will feature the Sords-Severn-Duvall Trio performing Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel and Severn.

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