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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | WMCT Doubleheader Combines Terrific Season Sneak Peek And Virtuosic Diotima Quartet

By Joseph So on February 28, 2020

The Diotama Quartet (Photo : James Kippen)
The Diotama Quartet (Photo : James Kippen)

Mochizuki: Brains; Berg: String Quartet, Op. 3; Beethoven: String Quartet no. 15 in A minor, Op. 132. Diotima Quartet (Yun-Peng Zhao, violin; Constance Ronzatti, violin; Franck Chevalier, viola; Pierre Morlet, cello). Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto, February 27, 2020.

It wasn’t one of the easiest of winter travel days — just ask Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s Regina-based Artistic Director Simon Fryer. He was scheduled to make the 2020-21 season announcement at noon today, but his flight to Toronto was delayed by inclement weather and the usual Pearson snafu. Miraculously he made it to Walter Hall by the skin of his teeth.

The ever loyal WMCT audience, out in force despite the snow and high winds, was not disappointed. The 2020-21 season promises to be a terrific one, with unusually adventurous programming and top-flight artists.

Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Artistic Director Simon Fryer (Photo : James Kippen)
Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Artistic Director Simon Fryer (Photo : James Kippen)

It kicks off its season on October 8 with Ramon Ortega Quero (oboe) and Annika Treutler (piano), in a program of Ravel, Schumann, de Falla, and others. Quero will also be giving a masterclass to U of T students. This is followed on November 12 by Michael Bridge & Friends, with Michael Bridge (accordion), Kornel Wolak (clarinet), Joseph Johnson (cello), and a special appearance by Bridge’s mentor, accordionist Joseph Macerollo. The program consists of works by Bach, Vivaldi, Brahms, Lutoslawski and Sydney Bechet

Lebanese Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury and Armenian Canadian pianist Serouj Kradjian join forces on March 4 to present a unique program of music inspired by their personal journey as immigrants to Canada. The program features songs by Bizet, Fauré, Chausson, Ravel and Saint-Saëns, reflecting Lebanon’s former colonial power, and 20th-century Lebanese songs sung in Arabic. Selections from the program are being considered for a possible future CD release.

Warsaw Chopin Competition and Leeds Competition winner Eric Lu brings his dazzling pianism to Walter Hall on April 1, in a program of Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and Scriabin. The WMCT season ends on May 6 with a concert featuring not one but two string quartets — the Marmen Quartet and the Viano String Quartet, joint winners of the most recent Banff International String Quartet Competition. The highlight will be a performance of the famous Mendelssohn Octet.

As a diehard voice fan, I am most excited about the Joyce El-Khoury recital. Hers is an exceptional lirico-spinto of beauty and technical prowess, always used with musicality and discerning taste. Coupled with the estimable pianism of Serouj Kradjian, this will be for me the most anticipated show of the season.

Then it was down to business, with the renowned, Paris-based Diotima Quartet. Founded in 1996, the quartet is best known for its championing of new music, having worked in close collaboration with such new music luminaries as Pierre Boulez and Helmut Lachenmann. It has an enviable catalogue on the Naïve label, and more recently with its own private label.

The Diotama Quartet (Photo : James Kippen)
The Diotama Quartet (Photo: James Kippen)

The Ensemble kicked off the proceedings with Japanese composer Misato Mochizuki’s Brains, a Canadian premiere. This was originally commissioned by Radio France for the Diotima Quartet. From what I could decipher from the program notes, the composer attempts to “musicalize” — my choice of words — the neurological activities, centering around four phenomena — “fixed patterns,” “emotions,” “learning and renewal” and “consciousness.” If that sounds slightly daunting and unfathomable, well, it is, for those of us who do not live and breathe new music all the time.

This score offers the listener an extraordinarily different sound world, one that’s light years away from traditional classical music. It’s challenging yet intriguing, and I dare say it requires repeated hearings to truly get it. The idea of capturing and turning neurological functions into music is daunting indeed. I couldn’t help but think that Brains is a prime example of new music that appeals to the head rather than the heart — the pun strictly coincidental. No, it’s not for everyone.

I never thought I’d say this, but compared to Brains, Alban Berg’s String Quartet No. 3 is on much more familiar ground. It represents Berg at his atonal best, and Diotima Quartet, with its great sensitivity, brought out beautifully the inherent lyricism in the score. I find their playing less edgy and angular than some other ensembles I have heard in this repertoire. The WMCT audience, always among the best behaved I’ve experienced, gave the artists a well-deserved, warm reception.

After the typical WMCT intermission with coffee tea and biscuits, the second half consisted of one of Beethoven’s late string quartets, no. 15, op. 132, a huge and structurally complex work at 45 minutes. Together with op. 130 and 131 (the best known) these are three of Beethoven’s late works, not so appreciated at the time but now revered. Here Diotima Quartet gave an exquisite reading of this piece, rather slow in tempo but never lax, and altogether authoritative and well-judged.

There you have it, for those of us braving the elements to get there, we were well compensated musically. Next up is another unusual combination, Beverly Johnston & Friends, an afternoon of percussion, flute and violin, on April 2. Mark your calendar. Details.

[Update: Feb 28, 2020. A previous version stated the Joyce El-Khoury and  Serouj Kradjian program on Mar. 4 will be recorded for a CD, but this is yet to be confirmed.]

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Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
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