A welcome flash of musical life
Timothy Eaton Memorial Church
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132: III. “Heiliger Dankgesang”, movement III – String Quartet No. 9 in C Major (“Razumovsky”), Op. 59, No. 3
New Orford String Quartet: Andrew Won, Jonathan Crow (violins), Douglas McNabney (viola), Brian Manker (cello)
B. Manker, E. Nowlin, A. Won, J. Crow (© Sian Richards)
Toronto Summer Music typically presents a varied musical cornucopia over a four week period in late July and early August. This year their festival was reduced to just 20 presentations online. However, perilously close to summer’s official end, they managed to out together this brief but precious event to an audience of 45 who won their free tickets to a quickie online lottery.
The venue was one the city’s grander churches, Timothy Eaton Memorial, with a capacity of 700 or so, thus ensuring more than the minimum required social spacing. The drawback to this is that the lovely venue is too large for chamber music; as wonderful as the players were, the sound lacked the essential intensity.
And just to be safe, audience members had to submit to non-contact temperature assessment; I was startled when the man ahead of me in the entry line failed this.
Playing were three members of the New Orford String Quartet plus violist Douglas McNabney (incidentally artistic director of TSM from 2010 to 2016). The quartet was formed in 2009 with players from the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras. Subsequently Eric Nowlin became principal violist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra which would have meant a 14-day quarantine for him to participate in this event – therefore, Mr McNabney.
D. McNabney (© Bo Huang)
In his introductory remarks, Jonathan Crow mentioned that for the past 185 days he had performed only for a microphone. Thus it was appropriate that the opening work was the central movement from Beethoven’s Opus 132 string quartet titled by the composer as “a holy song of thanksgiving”. I predict this piece will be played a lot when the COVID-19 pandemic ends. The performance was musically impeccable in all its changes of mood, and heartfelt in the rapt passages (in other words, everything one would want).
The two violinists share the lead role in the NOSQ, so Andrew Won assumed the lead for the String Quartet No. 9. It is a work from the younger, healthier Beethoven, and the players gave an energetic performance full of seemingly spontaneous playfulness. Such an exhilarating piece leaves one wanting more, but in a city where both major and minor performing arts groups have cancelled their 2020-21 seasons, while a few others manage to plan only skeletal series, it promises to be a long wait.