It’s that time of year again! While March 8 isn’t quite spring yet, calendrically speaking, the venerable Women’s Musical Club of Toronto (WMCT) uses their first concert of each year to announce their lineup the following season, as well as the recipient of its $20,000 Career Development Award. On this occasion, the announcement was followed by a recital by the UK based Elias String Quartet.
The 2018-19 season opens on October 4 with the Poulenc Trio, in its Toronto Debut. This American chamber ensemble, made up of a rather unusual combination of oboe, bassoon and piano, is said to be one of the most extensive touring troupes in the world, having performed in 45 states and many music festivals worldwide. It has a highly eclectic repertoire, with a strong focus on contemporary works. Here’s an interesting video interview of the Trio:
The annual vocal concert this season takes place on November 8, given by the fast-rising Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans in a highly innovative program of combining a Brahms and a Schumann song cycle! Such thoughtful programming, common in venues the likes of Wigmore or Carnegie, is quite rare in Toronto. The collaborative pianist is Malcolm Martineau, one of the very best in the business. Here’s the two of them in a Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin:
The third concert (Feb. 28, 2019) is Canadian double-bass Joel Quarrington with his friends, ie. Pianist David Jalbert, violinist Yehonatan Berick, violist Jethro Marks, and cellists Carole Sirois. On the program is a new WMCT commission from composer-conductor Bramwell Tovey.
This is followed the Toronto debut of Georgian pianist Mariam Batsashvili, winner of the 10th Liszt International Piano Competition in Utrecht. No program information available at this time, but you can be sure that any winner of a Liszt competition is in possession of a stupendous technique and fine artistry! Here she is playing La campanella.
The final concert of the season (May 2, 2019) features Rolston String Quartet. Named after Thomas Rolston, a long-time director of the Banff Centre, the Rolston won First Prize at Banff’s String Quartet Competition as well as many other important competitions. This ensemble is current in residence at Yale. Here they are, playing Leos Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” which was also on the program in the Elias String Quartet recital later.
It was also announced that the 2018 winner of the WMCT Career Development Award, with its generous $20,000, is the immensely talented 23-year old Toronto violinist Blake Pouliot. Mr. Pouliot was in Los Angeles for an engagement and wasn’t able to be at Walter Hall. He plays on the 1729 Guarneri del Gesu, on loan from the instrument bank of Canada Council, valued at $5.5 million. He will appear with WMCT in its 2019-20 season. Here’s the video shown at the announcement, of Mr. Pouliot playing the divine “Estrellita” by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce.
The exciting season announcement was followed by a recital of the UK-based Elias String Quartet, in a program of Schubert, Janácek and Beethoven. Due to an injury, violist Marvin Saving was unable to join in their current North American tour. He is replaced by violist Simone van der Giessen. The recital opened with a lovely performance of 8-minute Quartettsatz in C Minor by Schubert. It was played with uncommon technical precision, not to mention the requisite musicality, in particular a singing tone, so important in this happy piece of music.
This was followed by Leos Janácek’s String Quartet No. 2 “Intimate Letters.” Cellist Marie Bittloch spoke to the audience about the genesis of this work, which involved the 62-year old composer’s infatuation with Kamila Stösslová, at 26 a much younger woman. It appears his love was unrequited. Janácek’s feelings for her is revealed in a series of love letters, a few snippets read by Bittloch to the audience. Composed around the same time as his opera, Jenufa, you can really hear echoes of it and his other works, in his unique harmonic language and his trademark, repeated little figurations so often used in his orchestration.
The recital concluded with Beethoven’s quietly lyrical and refined String Quartet No. 12. After the modernist Janacek, it’s an interesting contrast to return to a much more traditional piece, played with a beautifully singing tone. I’ve always been impressed by the knowledgeable WMCT audience, one that you can count on never applauding prematurely. Well, not on this occasion I guess! After a particularly vivid rendition of the Scherzo, a few in the audience got carried away. The piece ended with a happy and lively Allegro that lifts the spirit. The audience gave the Elias Quartet generously warm ovations, and they rewarded the virtually full Walter Hall with an encore. I’m afraid I don’t know the exact name of the piece. Violinist Donald Grant announced to the audience that it’s something from the Scottish Highlands. Mr. Grant, who is from the Scottish Highlands himself, played the folksong-like solo exquisitely, a fine end to a marvellous concert.
For more information of WMCT, go to www.wmct.on.ca