Waterloo Record, Wednesday January 12, 2011:
By Stephen Preece, for the Record
Madawaska’s music mastery thrills Music Room audience
KITCHENER — In a southern Ontario area replete with world class chamber music talent, the prospect for emerging ensembles is daunting. Established stars can crowd the programs of festivals and presenters leaving little room for new shoots to sprout.
Fortunately, Jan Narveson at the Music Room (Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society) has a knack for programming groups that meet his very high and exacting standards, while also providing opportunities that might not exist elsewhere.
As a relatively new Toronto-based group (though with some local ties) the Madawaska Quartet demonstrated exceptional chops Tuesday evening, with a remarkable performance including two pieces from the standard romantic repertoire, and a newer work by American composer John Adams.
First on the program was Quartet No. 14 in d (D. 810) by Franz Schubert, otherwise known as Death and the Maiden. The group launched an unflinching tear into the fiery start, providing collective resonance and a stunning wall of furious sound.
The movement continued with nuanced diminuendos, abrupt sforzandos, frenetically duelling violins, and crisp ensemble unisons — all showcasing the ensemble’s broad and sensitive range.
A ghostly second movement, spritely scherzo third, and the blistering presto finale gave ample opportunity for individual members to shine, but also illuminated carefully crafted collective work. The growling, grinding deep cello anticipating climax in the fourth, in combination with the penetrating bite and deep piercing in the upper strings, was heavenly.
This is not a flashy group with wild and showy demonstration. Their movements feel genuine, relevant and passionately engaged in the music.
Rinsing the deep pathos of the Schubert, the Pavane from Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams, was a welcome turn, requiring versatility and expressive depth. This irresistible segment by America’s greatest living composer was both simple and complex— a steady rhythmic foundation overlaid with a curious tapestry of blues, jazz, folk, and ethnic influences.
The continuous evolution of shifting tonalities and chromatic turns provided a decidedly contemporary urban feel.
Madawaska arrived to this performance with a newly minted CD entitled, Prefab, which is gaining critical acclaim, and has been highlighted for its particular take on Jose Evangelista’s new work, Spanish Garland. The disc also contains an adventurous combination of composers, from the more contemporary Alfred Schnittke to the 17th-century Henry Purcell.
After intermission, the quartet was joined by Leslie Kinton on piano for the Piano Quintet in E-flat (Op. 44), by Robert Schumann.
A masterwork well-know to Music Room fans (from a steady stream of Canada’s greats), there was a substantial risk of comparison in this choice.
Nevertheless, the Madawaska take was highly compelling.
The fast movements were rendered at a more relaxed tempo than is often performed, and though it took time to adjust, the piece had a deliberate and well-articulated feel — an unrushed take, allowing the phrases to breathe, and the audience to absorb.
With similarly dramatic contrast as in the first half, this piece ran the full gamut from the grave and haunting march of the second movement, to the cascading muscularity of the third, and the spooky agitation of the final movement. Kinton melded nicely into the ensemble — solid, expressive and not overpowering.
An effusive audience was finally treated to an encore — the deliciously sizzling Scherzo (Furiant) from Dvorak’s Second Piano Quintet in A major (Op. 81). The delight to which this group took to the manic Bohemian folk dance spread like wildfire to everyone in the room.
[singlepic id=14 w=500 h=500 float=center]
[singlepic id=5 w=500 h=500 float=center]
‘The familiar Andante Cantabile second movement was about as lovely as you’re likely ever to hear.’
-the Ottawa Citizen
‘The highlight of the concert was Leos Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1…the Madawaska Quartet gave an assured and stirring performance of this dark, dramatic work.’
The Live Music Report
‘……..working overtime to break free of traditional classical constraints’
NOW Magazine, Toronto
‘Madawaska String Quartet performed an impeccable set of lovely and haunting classical pieces by Allison Cameron and Ushio Torikai’.
EXCLAiM! magazine, Canada
‘Among the less familiar pieces we heard other buried treasures. The Madawaska Quartet presented several such works, including…the Meditation on the St Wenceslas Chorale by Josef Suk, permeated in their performance with quietly intense religious feeling.’
North Star Entertainment
Robert Everett-Green of the Globe and Mail named José Evangelista’s Spanish Garland from Prefab one of:
Essential tracks: 4 tunes you need to hear this week
-Paul Rapoport, former critic, Fanfare, American Record Guide and others
‘One of the most interesting contemporary art music discs to arrive in recent months.’
-David Olds, Editor’s Corner, Wholenote Magazine
Images, with Rob MacDonald, guitar:
‘I’ve written many reviews on this site filled with praise and promotional goodness but this recording is my personal favorite because of the excellent repertoire and instrumentation at the hands of brilliant players.
Images by Rob MacDonald and the Madawaska String Quartet is the best collection of modern works for guitar and strings in Classical Guitar Canada’s growing library… Buy the album from the CMC and you’ll be supporting a great Canadian institution and its artists.’
-Classical Guitar Canada
‘a step into the darkness of the unknown that nonetheless is worth the risk.’
-Jean-Yves Duperron, Classical Music Sentinel
‘”Images” is a uniquely compelling recording and becomes more and more intriguing with each repeated listen.’
-James Scott, minor7th.com
‘well worth seeking out.’
-David Olds, the Wholenote