The Americas

Last night’s Toronto Summer Music offering in Walter Hall was American themed in the broadest sense.  The New Orford Quartet kicked things off with three pieces for string quartet.  The first was Piazzolla’s Tango Ballet in Bragato’s arrangement for string quartet.  It’s kind of tango/jazz fusion and great fun.  Jessie Montgomery’s Strum is a sort of homage to the southern American tradition of a different kind of string instrument.  Lots of complex pizzicato and other effects.  Carmen Braden’s Raven Conspiracy is a three movement work for spoken voice and quartet dealing with both the mythical and biological raven.  It’s playful and extremely virtuosic.  I was struck by the fact that the New Orfords are not just a very fine ensemble but a very flexible one.  Nothing seems to faze them!


Next up the quartet was joined by pianist Philip Chiu and mezzo Marion Newman for a new arrangement for piano quintet of Ian Cusson’s Five Songs on Poems of Marilyn Dumont.  I’ve written enough about these songs not to describe them again and I’ve now heard them in various arrangements ranging from chamber orchestra to just piano.  The new arrangement may be the best yet or maybe it’s that they haven’t often been played by an ensemble as brilliant as last night’s.  It was also interesting to hear Marion Newman sing them again.  There are, essentially, two mezzos who sing these songs and each has/is developing a different approach.  Rebecca Cuddy is, I think, developing a more free wheeling style. She’s angry, funny and downright sassy.  It works for her.  Marion is more restrained and classically elegant.  She exudes a deep and dignified sadness.  It’s really interesting that both approaches work really well and yet are so different.

After the interval we got Dvořák’s String Quartet No.12 in F Major “American”.  It was, unsurprisingly, very nicely done and there was even a bit of an encore.  All in all a very interesting and satisfying evening.

Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

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