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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Banff Day 2: No judge goes to bed before ranking the first competition round

By John Terauds on August 27, 2013

Jeffrey Myers, Ryan Meehan, Estelle Choi and Jeremy Berry of the Calidore String Quartet get ready to perform in Banff on Tuesday (John Terauds phone photo).
Jeffrey Myers, Ryan Meehan, Estelle Choi and Jeremy Berry of the Calidore String Quartet get ready to perform in Banff on Tuesday (John Terauds phone photo).

It took about 12 hours of music to get through the first round of the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, and the judges were not allowed to go to bed before casting their first set of votes — all submitted individually, no sharing.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

The competition’s impartial tabulating system will combine these rankings with the results from the next three rounds to, hopefully, deliver a fair list of laureates on Sunday.

Feeling giddy and reckless after a long day of music in the rarefied air, I’ve decided to pre-empt all of this waiting and share my thoughts on the three sets of votes the seven-member competition jury is casting as I type. Second-guessing judges is always a fun game to play.

I’ll list my top three choices in each category — with a proviso that the level of musicianship from these young professionals is truly fine; and the difference between a good and great performance is a matter of splitting hairs.

The Schubert:

Each of the 10 quartets had to tackle an early Schubert quartet, providing a level initial, erm, playing field.

The best combination of Classical poise and Romantic expression came from the Calidore String Quartet, which comes with Canadian content. The quartet whose cellist Estelle Choi is from Calgary, is currently in residence with American Public Media.

I’ve put Germany’s Schumann Quartett in second place for what was absolutely textbook Schubert. The world’s most eminent Schubert authorities could not have dreamed up a finer performance, but perfection can sometimes sound a teensy bit clinical.

Third spot goes to the Noga Quartet, whose members come from France and Israel. They presented a finely honed interpretation that occasionally bordered on safe and bland.

The 20th century work:

This morning I wrote about the vividness of the 20th century works interpreted on the competition programme, and the day’s recitals confirmed the impression. To pick three top quartets from 10 electrifying performances is silly. But here goes:

The Navarra Quartet, made up of musicians from the British Isles and the Netherlands, brought me to tears with Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3, from 1975. They captured his slow and at times angry dance with mortality with remarkably tightly contained power.

Second comes France’s Quatuor Cavatine, which presented a 1976 work by the late Henri Dutilleux rendered so vividly that it became like a three-dimensional sound sculpture.

The Nogas get the third spot here, as well, for making György Ligeti’s challenging 1954 Métamorphoses Nocturnes sound easy as well as compelling.

Overall:

There are still three rounds to go — all-Haydn tomorrow, a Canadian work newly written by Vivian Fung on Friday and a Saturday dip into the 19th century — so much could change.

To help cement my recklessness, here are my three favourite quartets so far:

1. The Calidore String Quartet, whose modern piece was hobbled not by inferior playing but by the fact that the piece by Paul Hindemith is simply not great music.

2. The Noga Quartet, for its all ’round goodness and humanity.

3. The Schumann Quartet, for its obsessive perfectionism (their other piece was a surgically penetrating interpretation of Béla Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3).

No matter where you are in the world, you too can second-guess the judges by following the competition live stream here. The music resumes in the morning at 12:30 p.m. Eastern.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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