Review

New Orford String Quartet

Chamber Music Kelowna concluded their 39th season Friday night with an absolutely stellar concert featuring the New Orford String Quartet. Comprised of some of North America’s finest orchestral musicians--violinists Andrew Wan and Jonathan Crow, violist Eric Nowlin, and cellist Brian Manker--the New Orford String Quartet delivered a program of profound depth and brilliant virtuosity that was enthusiastically received by their Kelowna audience.

The program opened with a playful piece by the young clarinetist/conductor/composer Uriel Vanchestein titled Les Veuves (The Widows). Based on a somewhat bizarre poem by Richard Desjardins, the pieces tells a grim tale of disruption and deception in an indigenous community when a group of loggers raid the land of all the trees. Despite the peculiar story-line, the piece was cleverly composed, and showcased many special effects on all four string instruments including an extended passages of col legno stroke, mimicking the sound of trees being chopped down.

The highlight of the evening was a riveting performance of the String Quartet in A minor Op. 51, No. 2 by Johannes Brahms. Featuring violinist Wan in the first violin chair, this performance clearly demonstrated why the ensemble’s recent recording of the Op. 51 Brahms Quartets won them a Juno Award in 2017. Wan’s playing was of particular note throughout the piece with all four members of the group blending seamlessly with every harmonic and rhythmic turn. The Hungarian czardas-inspired Finale was played with great gusto, style, and abandon while still remaining tastefully precise. 

The second half of the program was dedicated to a rare performance of Beethoven’s monumental String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131. Comprised of seven movements played without a pause between them, this work is unlike any other string quartet written previously in terms of form and structure. While the two outer movements are written in C sharp minor, the middle movements foray into many other keys, representing a rather unusual composition style for the time. With Crow occupying the first violin chair for this work, the ensemble played with an appropriate restraint and interiority for this work. Cellist Manker’s extensive on-stage remarks gave the audience a depth of perspective about this piece that certainly enhanced the overall experience. Given the extensive amount of fugal, contrapuntal and imitative writing in this piece, the work requires exceptional interplay between the inner voices and second violinist Wan and violist Nowlin were nothing short of brilliant.

The final Allegro movement of the Beethoven garnered an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience capping off both a wonderful season, and an exceptional season-finale concert for Chamber Music Kelowna.

 

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based freelance musician, composer, educator, and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.