Friends of Chamber Music

Vogler Quartet with Ian Parker

Date 7 November 2006 @ 20.00 Venue Vancouver Playhouse

Haydn Quartet in E flat, Op. 64, No.6 Berg Quartet, Op. 3 (1910) Shostakovich Piano Quintet in B minor, Op. 57

1st Violin Tim Vogler 2nd Violin Frank Reinecke Viola Stefan Fehlandt Cello Stephan Forck Piano Ian Parker

Reviewer J H Stape

Surely one of the great pleasures of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 musical seasons has been celebrating the centenary of Shostakovich's birth in 1906 -- and what a birthday present the Vogler Quartet offered with its spellbinding performance of the Piano Quintet in B minor, Op. 57 (1940), abetted by the dazzling Ian Parker.

As bravi rang out and audience enthusiasm proved infectious, Ian Parker charmingly asked what "encore" really means and then, generously, which movement we wanted to hear again. The third movement scherzo carried the day, and was offered up with even more white heat passion and involvement than on its first splendid playing when some sotto voce "oohs" and "aahs" and even a "yeah" escaped from an audience famous for its good behaviour, rapt attention, and depth of musical knowledge.

From its rich, powerful opening, with cascades of sound pouring from the solo piano and then the strings, the quintet promised to be the highlight of an evening of confident, bold playing and delivered on that promise without stint. The fugue material was captivating and deeply moving as Shostakovich began exploring depths beyond depths, while the bright and jumpily playful scherzo -- for once truly jokey and high spirited -- got a driving and forceful performance. Contrasts continued in the intermezzo, solemn and serious yet intensely lyrical. The flashy, brilliant finale saw yet another shift of mood, and elicited finely detailed playing, the whole work an object lesson in how complex music can also be emotionally appealing and rewarding.

This object lesson was several soundscapes away from the cerebral Berg String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910), with its metronome and calculator for a heart. True, there were brooding, plangent moments and an insistent troubling, rather like Edvard Munch set to music. Berg undeniably captures some of modernity's neurasthenic qualities: its tendency to hyper-introspection and its scab-picking self-doubting. The Vogler met both the technical and emotional challenges of this heady music, which surely has earned a secure place in the repertoire, though by this point in time some of its shock value has long frayed, with the dissonant sound-palette now familiar and coming off as a bit shopworn.

The opening Haydn Quartet in E flat (1790) offered up a mellow, burnished sound particularly suited to the exquisite 17th and 18th century instruments the quartet plays on (the exception being the 1992 viola). This engaging music is vintage Haydn: solemn and almost soulful when slow, and effervescent and sparkling when tempi are fast. The third movement, a menuetto marked allegretto, was toe-tapping stuff, the Viennese equivalent of a y'all hoedown, with the presto finale offering frothy, almost rioutous, elegance as its keynote.

In an evening strong on sharp, even jagged, contrasts, the Vogler proved its acumen and skills over the length and depths of the repertoire, and was singularly happy in its choice of pianist for the Shostakovich, the collaboration between piano and strings being a palpably happy partnership in high-level music-making.

© 2006 J H Stape