Late-19th century composers were known for merging music and the birth of modern nationalism, but an exciting evening of chamber pieces at the Toronto Summer Music Festival at Koerner Hall on Thursday night also demonstrated how the Czech contingent blended complex ideas with open emotional expression.
This music is equal parts honey and vinegar, satisfying to the serious listener yet easily understood by any newcomer.
Toronto’s Gryphon Trio — violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Jamie Parker — formed the core of the concert, joined at the end by longtime friends and collaborators, violinist Scott St. John (who ran off with the St. Lawrence String Quartet several years ago) and viola master Steven Dann.
Together, they breathed fire into a chamber music staple, Antonin Dvorák’s A major Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 81, which dates from 1887. This four-movement work wears its broad emotional sweep on its proverbial sleeve, but this group of accomplished musicians also stoked it with the fire of life.
Much of Dvorák’s music is buoyed by a natural lyricism, but, in the hands of these masters, the piece positively levitated.
The evening started, a bit less successfully, with the Sonatina for Violin and Piano in G Major, Op. 100, a sunny, tuneful 1893 product of Dvokák’s American sojourn in the United States. Parker was all pearly elegance at the piano, but Patipatanakoon’s interpretation could have used a bit of burnishing here and there to make it as polished as the rest of the evening’s work.
The Gryphons were all together for the most dramatic morsel of the programme, Bedrich Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15, which dates from 1855.
Here is music that truly runs the gamut of emotion expressible in music, from a open-wound opening solo lament for the violin to what must be the most smile-inducing courtship duet between violin and cello ever committed to paper by a classical composer.
Anger, joy, fear and hope intermingle in this music in a dizzying dance that became all the more vivid because of the performers’ fiery commitment.
Chamber music done with passion and poise can leave a listener just as exhilarated as a big night at the symphony.
St. John and Dann return with many other guests, including Toronto Summer Music artistic director Douglas McNabney on viola, for more late-19th century chestnuts on Friday night at Walter Hall. Details here.
Earlier on Friday, festival fellows and mentors present a free, all-Schumann concert at 12:30 p.m., at Walter Hall.