No doubt about Shanghai Quartet by Richard Todd
From The Ottawa Citizen
When people think of chamber music, the first genre that's likely to
come to mind is the string quartet. But when people think of string
quartets, either as a genre or as an ensemble, China is not at the
top of the list of countries that occur to most of us.
And yet, as in almost every area, China has recently come to the fore
in the world of classical music. Last night in Dominion-Chalmers
Church, the Shanghai Quartet gave a concert of works by Beethoven,
Brahms and Chen Yi.
The Shanghais have become recognized around the world as one of
today's top quartets. Anyone who came to last night's concert with
any doubts on that issue surely left without them.
The program began with Beethoven's Quartet in B-flat, op. 18, in a
fairly aggressive reading. But there was little sacrifice of clarity
except briefly in the Scherzo. The playing was elegant, especially in
The Shanghai Quartet was formed in 1982. In those days, the Cultural
Revolution with its proscription of western classical music was a
fresh memory. Composer Chen Yi had started to play the violin in
1958, at the age of three. She did her best to keep it up while it
was forbidden, playing with a practice mute to avoid denunciation by
neighbours. She was sent to the countryside for two years of forced
labour, or "re-education" as it was called at the time, but she took
her violin with her. When she returned home at the age of 17, she
served as concertmaster and composer with the Beijing Opera Troupe.
In 1983, she composed the first Chinese viola concerto and her career
as a composer has gone from distinction to distinction ever since.
Her From the Path of Beauty is in four movements with titles like The
Secluded Melody and The Dancing Ink. A compelling blend of Chinese
and western musical thought, it is not easy listening, but it is a
fantastic work, altogether worthy of the company it was keeping in
last night's program.
The evening concluded with a transcendent account of the Brahms
Quartet in A minor, op. 51, no.2. There were no radical interpretive
departures, nor was it idiosyncratic in any way. Yet one came away
feeling aware of the score's depths and beauties in unsuspected ways.
Higher praise than that is hard to think of.
A shimmering rendition of the second movement of Ravel's Quartet in F
was given as an encore.
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