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The Quartet at McGill: a revelation: The Calidore

Calidore String Quartet
La Presse

By Claude Gingras

The fourth McGill International Sting Quartet Academy, which opened on Sunday and goes through the 23rd, brought nine ensembles who, nearly all foreign, are coming here for the first time.

Two are well known: the Miami and the Vogler.   The first opened the concert Sunday night and the second will play the closing concert.   The program also includes four concerts shared between four quartets early in their careers: the Calidore, Navarra, Schumann, and Van Kuijk.   Each quartet participates in two concerts.  A third category of participants consists of very young quartets who are still studying: the Goldmund, Sonoro and Yul.  A fourth quartet had been announced in this category, the Furioso from Azerbadjïan, but they were unable to attend because of visa issues, it seems.  Perhaps their name caused some alarm…

Wednesday night, a nearly full Pollack Hall – all the concerts are free – heard the Navarra, of triple European origin, and the Calidore, who are American-Canadian.

The Navarra opened their performance with some moderately interesting early Schubert, where one does well to omit the repeats in the first and last movements.  The scherzo that came in second place came down to an exercise in arpeggios which the young players executed well, to attain in the Adagio that followed a profound depth of expression.

In the first Brahms quartet, which closed their portion of the program, one found all the characteristic qualities of the Brahmsian chamber universe: charm, serenity, a rich sonic palette.   The first violinist lost some points for the ensemble, but left a good impression nonetheless.

The Calidore were a complete contrast.   From the first measure of the Haydn – the celebrated Kaiserquartett, or Empereur – the tone is set.   The precise attack, the full sound, the luminescent thought: everything was on an infinitely superior level, of an absolute professionalism, and it remained until the end, without a second of weakness.   We’re already in the presence of a great quartet.

The first violinist shined in the first of four variations on the Austrian national anthem.  In the minuet, the same musician bestowed a veiled tone on the minor Trio, almost mysterious.  Elsewhere, one admired the imaginative phrasing.

But the big surprise of the concert was the Hindemith.  The Calidore chose the third quartet (not the fourth, as the program indicated).  What a joyful idea to diverge from the usual Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven formula and go for something different.   The opening “atonal freeing” (to cite Tranchefort), in five contrasting movements, had been played at Pro Musica by the St. Lawrence in 2007.  It’s also necessary to mention the celebrated recording, in 1951, by the Hollywood String Quartet.

The Calidore offered us a very energetic and very interior reading.   In their hands, the violently hammered themes of the four bows had meaning, and the cellist, the only female of the group, played the fourth movement solo with incredible mastery.   The ovation was considerable and highly earned.