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Vol. 14, No. 3, 2015
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music reviews by



June 21st, Bourgie Hall

Elizabeth Wallfisch leads the way with exciting string ensemble

There were some vigorous Vivaldi moments in this concert -- enough to make up for a few glitches, including the Therbo (lute) that seemed to crack a string or something, but once quickly adjusted by its wonderful player, Sylvan Bergeron, and upon the suggestion of Ms. Wallfisch, that Adagio movement was repeated. As well, there seemed to be an out-of-tune high treble note on the harpsichord that kept coming into play as Hank Knox performed Bach’s Concerto No. 9 in D major. I could hear a few violins squeak at times, yet all in all, Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonica was a delight to listen to.

Ms. Walfisch is an impeccable master of ornamental playing which characterizes the Baroque of Vivaldi. Her ensemble was a gathering of Canada’s winners -- those who compete every three years for the chance to borrow fine stringed instruments from the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank. Mr Brott played a key role in setting up this Bank and along with W.I.M. Turner, raised funds to purchase a 1706 Turner-Brott Tecchler cello, which is on a career loan to Mr. Brott.

Lively, languid, sorrowful and sensational, the overall performance of the artists showed impeccable passion and timing. I particularly enjoyed the violin playing of Iryna Krechkovsky who was given the solo-like role in Vivaldi’s highly difficult Concerto in E major No 12, Opus 3 of the L’Estro Armonico - one of the five of the concertos featured in the afternoon performance.

In all the Presto and Largo movements; Vivaldi and the orchestra really became one. Vivaldi is always such a golden pleasure to listen to and the century-old baroque instruments offered a splendid treat.

This was the final concert of the Montreal Chamber Music Festival – a fitting performance that embodied the energetic spirit of this wonderful Festival.



June 19th, Bourgie Hall

Emotional brilliance, humour, tragedy and coquettish whimsy -- all were captured in the remarkable voice of Marie-Josée Lord in her special concert, called Femmes. From the get-go, Ms. Lord explained that her concert would take us on an emotional voyage traveling through the feminine terrain. She thematically addressed these themes in the pieces she sang: love, loss, ageing, and madness --“la folie.”

Ms. Lord was wonderfully lively, and as she explained the plot context of each song, we were not only treated to the opera side of things, but the story side as well. She is a supremely gifted artist who thoroughly captivates with her infectious personality and totally disarming manner. She takes any trace of stuffiness out of opera. Backed by three female string players and a pianist, they beautifully enhanced Ms. Lord’s glorious voice.

The countess from Figaro, Salome, Thaïs, Sister Angelica and more characters came to life as she sang key arias and moments in operas that vividly revealed women at the peak of their emotional joy and deepest valley of despair. Her most moving moments came when she sang the iconic Madame Butterfly aria, and when she sang Strauss’s macabre Salome in the scene when John the Baptist’s head is presented to this mad, manic woman. Her final piece, Massenet’s “Dis-moi que je suis belle eternellement,” was extraordinary. The very loud high last note was a tour de force that demonstrated Ms. Lord comes by her last name honestly; I have never heard such power.

Her technique allows her to soar to ragingly high registers and plummet into deep earthy tones. From the flirtatious to the frightening, we met many characters; the songs presented by Ms. Lord highlighted strong women who confront the divine and demonic in themselves. We were thrilled to hear how powerful and complex women in opera are. The composers -- all male surely grasped the many facets of the feminine.

Her encore gave us Gilbert Becaud’s famous “Maintenant,” a song about losing everyone; nothing is left to live for. This concert was outstanding; Ms. Lord made us all feel we have everything to live for -- even though being a woman is not always easy.


June 16th, 8:00 p.m, Bourgie Hall

Violinist extraordinaire, Rachel Barton Pine proved to the audience that Paganini may have met his match last night. She dared to perform all “24 Caprices” -- a dazzling collection 'construed' with musical import and effect by the composer some called the devil due to his mesmerizing technical virtuosity and innovations with violin adjustments and sounds -- not to mention the hypnotic grip of his gaze that transfixed those that met him.

Paganini suffered from a disease known as spider fingers that produces elongated ligaments; this surely accounted for his preposterously difficult-to perform compositions. Yet, Ms. Pine performed the pieces with delightful dash and devotion while exuding warmth, passion and humour, too. This, she accomplished -- producing faster-than-the speed-of sound clarity, and impeccable timing coloured with tonal contrasts -- without being cursed by the spider finger affliction that ironically benefitted Paganini as composer/performer until the illness completely destroyed his entire body.

Ms. Pine was more than able to pull off every staggering stretch of the fingers on the strings of the violin’s neck with impeccable polish and feeling. Her technique left us breathless and her glowing musicality moved us with awe.

She not only played each of these impossible pieces perfectly, but entertained us as she explained different violin applications and techniques required for many of the pieces, such as in “Caprice No. 7” which demanded non-stop up and down bowing, and rapid-fire flying staccatos -- the latter which she explained took her endless months of practice to finally pull off.

In fact, collectively, the “Caprices” compiled a circus-like variety of poignantly impressive playing techniques: ricochet bowings and arpeggios followed by descending scales, double and triple stops, bilding up and backward bowing, tricky staccatos (such as in No. 10), plucking while simultaneously creating high reaching notes that slither down to low ones, terrifying trilling that demands fingers to perform like a contortionist -- - and all this within a stunning array of harmonies and moods of love (No. 21) and haunting tones (No. 6).

One must conclude that Ms. Pine is this century’s “Paganina” (albeit a much prettier version than the original namesake). She not only gave us an evening of miraculous music, but she engaged us by talking about the personality and instrumental peccadillos of Paganini.

Another of Ms. Pine’s gifts is her communicative zeal. Devoid of any stagey pretention, she cajoled us with entertaining stories about the composer and even included some humorous anecdotes about herself. She spoke to us as if we were all at her party -- there to laugh and relish the magic of Paganini’s music and the tricks he employed to impress all. However, she had the final play; she ended the 'party' with her own composition which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Denis Brott’s brilliant Chamber Music Festival.

So what did she do to send us on our way in spirited gaiety? She composed several variations on the theme “Happy Birthday” -- Paganini style.

What a clever lady -- a virtuoso vixen playing on the priceless 'ex-Soldat' Joseph Guarnerius del Gesù (Cremona 1742) violin picked out by Brahms himself for one of his own students.

Ms. Pine’s performance most surely would have put cocky Paganini in his place had he been lucky enough to have heard it.


June 10th, 8:00 p.m. Pollack Hall

It’ is the 20th anniversary of Denis Brott’s Montreal Chamber Music Festival, and the following concert was a moving one – a program to celebrate the resilience of man and how music unites all cultures.

The dynamic Dover Quartet filled the Hall with exuberance and spot-on expressiveness in each piece they performed. Their timing was impeccable. Indeed, it is not surprising this young ensemble, which formed at the Curtis Institute in 2008 when its members were only 19-years-old, has soared to reap prestigious awards from the Banff International Strings Quartet Competition in 2013, along with a slew of coveted prizes, such as the Grand prize of the 2010 Fischoff Competition.

The first piece they performed was in memory of the Holocaust. Titled, Quatuor. 3, opus 46, it was written by Viktor Ullmann in 1942 during his internment at Theresienstadt. He was later shipped off with his wife and murdered at Auschwitz. His words move us to tears- as does his music. He said: “. . . All that I would stress is that Theresienstadt has helped, not hindered me in my musical work and that our desire for culture was matched by our desire for life.”

Quatuor 3 vividly evokes a complex a relentless series of haunting moods where despair, sadness and resignation reveal instrumental angst, with bursts of hope and excitement interjecting the otherwise painful motif in this work. The Dover Quartet captured the crescendos and sensitive nuances with such polish and feeling.

March-André Hamelin then appeared on stage to perform Schubert’s massively difficult “Impromptus D, 935 nos. 3 & 4.” Never have I seen a pianist stay so still as he performs. He is calm and one surmises cerebral in his playing, and yet each note each chromatic run, each trill, the octaves and more were perfect. Compared to the Dover Quartet of whose passion was most visible, one could say that Mr. Hamelin is a veritas veteran yoga master of his instrument. Never showy or pretentious, he dashed off such fiery and fragile moments of melody lines that left me breathless. Through the brilliance of his technique via dexterity, alacrity, and strength – all converged to create in this epic work the moods of sweetness, delicacy as balletic tones and fanciful moments of trilling and frolicking ascended and descended over the piano keys. I was dumbfounded by his virtuoso playing; he made it all seem as effortless as eating candy.

Finally, Mr Hamelin and the Dover Quartet united forces to bring us the most complex and emotional work on the program, Quintet in F minor, by César Franck. It played out like a love rhapsody. Full of turbulence, joy and tender moments, this work was evidently inspired by one of Franck’s infatuations with a student or possibly another composer, Augusta Holmès. I found the work to be rich and moving as it evoked all the stirring pulsations of love in our heart as it rises and falls.

It was a faultless performance by the musicians who brought to life Franck’s often unpredictable style where classical structures collide into waves of romantic urgency.

The artists’ complete understanding of each work and their outstanding ability to carry off such beautiful music demonstrated supreme musicianship and mastery over their instruments.

For the upcoming concert information and ticket reservation, call (514) 489-7444 or visit:


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