Festival Vancouver 2008

Alcan String Quartet (Chicoutimi)
Sunday, 10 August 2008 @ 3.30 pm • Christ Church Cathedral

Reviewer J H Stape

Snowy Québec met the warm Hispanic world in this tightly focussed concert of six pieces of 20th-century music by South American and Spanish composers, and the match turned out to be a success, not least because only one of the works was of the clichéd "Spanish" sort, and that José Evangelista's highly compelling "Spanish Garland -- 12 Folk Melodies from Spain."

The dance element was pronounced in the opening number, Miniatura by Brazilian composer José Viera Brandão. Exhuberance carefully in check in the opening movement of this short piece, warmth and lyricism came to the fore in the soulful adagio, with a return to allegro character in the exploratory and tentative urgency of the close.

This though was an amuse-bouche before the main course: Alberto Ginastera's four movement String Quartet No. 1, large in scale and intricately wrought. Finely balanced playing was the keynote here, from the adrenalin-rush opening to the brash nervousness of the second movement "Evocation," based on gaucho dances, to the deeply melancholic Nocturne. While texture and colour were at the forefront at the close.

By contrast, Evangelista's "Spanish Garland" came off as almost overly deliberate in its charm, the short movements (15 seconds to about 60) a hovering over the varied landscape of Spain, with some of the movements of decidedly Moorish cast and sun-and-cloud dappled variety an obvious aim.

Less technically demanding than the work of the Argentine Ginestera, the challenge here was mainly interpretive: to give each shifting colour its proper due. And in this the Alcan succeeded mightily.

Argentine José Bragato's tango-inspired "Tres movimientos porteños" was expressive and moody, whereas the "Four for Tango" by the tango master himself, Ástor Piazzolla came across as drily technical, almost as if the form were being ironized and sent up, more, say, about the idea of a tango than the thing itself.

The densely modern pallette of Cuban composer Paquito D'Rivera in his Wapango was a technically demanding excercise in tension and overdrive, moving into the frenetic.

By the end of the hour and a bit one felt that more contrast would have been welcome in highlighting the real interest of this musical excursion into las cosas de España (and the Spanish diaspora). The playing throughout, though, was adroit and agile, with the Alcan Quartet delivering a committed and nicely articulated performance, flecked with equal measures of thought and feeling.

© 2008 J H Stape