The Montreal Chamber Music Festival began its 19th season Thursday with an invitation for the audience to “exchange” with the performers onstage. Why, then, was I not allowed to read my political poetry? But thank you to whoever let me back into the concert, which featured two beloved local stars, pianist André Laplante and soprano Karina Gauvin, and the Quebec première of the Dover Quartet, a rocket-powered American group that swept the Banff International String Quartet Competition this year.
On the program was the commissioned work from that competition, Vivian Fung’s Third String Quartet, as well as songs by Chausson and Fauré, and Schumann’s vivacious Piano Quintet. The night was a lesson in the power of imperfection and a reminder that this festival is healthy because it remains capable of surprise.
The characteristic qualities of Fung’s music are efficiency and directness, a good match to the Dover Quartet’s hyper-attentive playing. Her Third Quartet is about 10 minutes long, a single cycle that rises to explosions and distortions before returning to the crystalline shapes of the opening. It is terrifically difficult, cutting on the edge of range and volume in parts and demanding wildly nonintuitive rhythms in others; it’s also surprisingly affective. They dispatched it easily, not to say coolly, and listening felt like watching a hunt from a great height. Up on the cliffs, the drama overcame the danger.
– by Lev Bratishenko
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