Classical Notes: OSO and Quartetto Gelato show their gypsy colours

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra took the unusual step of featuring an established quartet for its Exotic Flavours concert.

On Thursday, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra took the unusual step of featuring an established quartet for its Exotic Flavours concert.

Instead of having to obtain music scores, OSO musical director Rosemary Thomson also took the equally unusual step of having the quartet bring sheet music for the whole orchestra.

The popular Quartetto Gelato, who have already performed in Vernon with the North Okanagan Community Concerts, is a Toronto-based “new classical” group which performs all over the world.

Formed in 1989, the quartet is currently composed of founder Peter DeSotto (tenor, violin, mandolin), Alexander Sevastian (accordion), Colin Maier (oboe), and Lydia Munchinsky (cello).

All four are accomplished concert performers, and they’ve cut eight CDs. Their first two discs went on board the space shuttle Columbia, courtesy of Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk.

Between them the quartet performs an eclectic mix of classical masterworks, operatic arias, tangos, folk songs from around the world, and especially gypsy music. Their repertoire is vast, yet they play without musical scores.

After the orchestra’s crowd-pleasing opener, Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, the quartet joined them for a traditional Roumanian gypsy piece: Romamolda Hora.

The hora is a type of circle dance from Eastern Europe that is popular during wedding celebrations and festivals, especially in rural areas. These pieces usually begin quite slowly, even seductively, then pick up speed as excitement builds. This one was no exception, and ended at a thrilling pace.

The four solo instruments blended beautifully, both with each other and with the orchestra. This, to me, was true gypsy jazz, also reminiscent of Klezmer music, sometimes called Freilech music (translated as “happy music.”) And happiness was the flavour of the evening.

Along with the orchestra, Quartetto Gelato played more than a dozen pieces, occasionally even resorting to horseplay during the music.

There was Astro’s Canto a Voce Piena, sung by tenor DeSotto. Described as bel canto (“beautiful song”), it depicted a lover singing below the balcony of his beloved.

And there was the ‘50s classic Volare, a love song in which Italian singer-songwriter  Domenico Modugno, who co-wrote the piece, describes the feeling he has, which resembles flying when with his lover.

Gipsy Rhapsody, a well-known piece by Victor Gridin, featured four-time world champion accordionist Sevastian, who uses a button accordion with nearly three times as many buttons as a piano has keys.

He informed us that in his world, “you have to be fast and loud,” and his dazzling finger work produced a tour-de-force performance.

Here, the orchestra scoring was maybe too rich – with more of a Hollywood sound than from Eastern Europe.

The second half brought us Pasculli’s Oboe Concerto – a piece requiring Colin Maier to use circular breathing as to produce a continuous sound without pauses. (The Guinness world record for one continuous note is 47 minutes!)

The last piece of the evening (before the encore of O sole mio) was another traditionally stirring gypsy piece Roumanian Caravan.

We were told that this always produces a standing ovation. And, of course, it did.

– Jim Elderton is a freelance writer and filmmaker who reviews the Okanagan Symphony season for The Morning Star.