It was hard to find parking at the Cleland Theatre last Saturday, a good omen for the quality of the community concert I was about to attend. The New Orford String Quartet was gracing Penticton with its appearance.
Following the tradition of Canada’s famous Orford String Quartet of the 1960s to 1990s, four principal players of the Montreal and Toronto Symphony Orchestras formed this amazing ensemble in 2009. They have garnered rave reviews and nominations since. A gentle, sophisticated sound with rich dynamic shadings filled the auditorium in Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20 No. 4. Haydn’s writing was equally appealing and interesting for all four instruments. Violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan traded off theme melodies. Violist Eric Nowlin and cellist Brian Manker had prominent parts in the second movement which featured a theme with variations. A light-hearted Hungarian dance preceded a spirited finale performed with brilliance and precision.
The original Orford String Quartet had commissioned a composition from the Canadian composer Jacques Hetu, which was on the program next. Hetu’s String Quartet No.1, Op. 19 could be understood as a conversation where the speakers were sometimes in agreement, sometimes arguing. The bold dissonances and unusual inventive phrases were astonishing, but never harsh or unpleasant. The baroque composing style of the fugue combined with modern melodies was very attractive. A plaintive viola solo in the slow-paced second movement reminded of a still, snow covered landscape.
The second half of the program was dedicated to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8 in E-minor. Beethoven’s musical themes had much loveliness and sweetness, but there also was a sense of conflict and urgency that came across in the interpretation. The second movement was performed at a very slow tempo which created immense suspense. The audience seemed to hold its breath! It had a sublime outer-worldly quality.
After enthusiastic applause and three curtain calls the New Orford String Quartet played a selection from a Brahms composition as an encore. After the concert the four musicians came to the lobby to chat and to sign their CDs. They were amazed at the scenic beauty of the Okanagan and hope to return soon.
Roswitha Masson is a concert reviewer in Penticton