HOW do you celebrate a quarter century of music making? The Winnipeg Chamber Music Society did so in style with the first of a two-concert tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven. And while the audience stood for a big ovation at the end of the evening, this was not the best outing for this usually reliable group.
With a nod to the proximity of Halloween, they opened with Trio in D Major, op. 70, No. 1, The Ghost Trio. Violinist Gwen Hoebig, cellist Yuri Hooker and pianist David Moroz dug into the beginning with aggression, only to do a quick about-face with a sweetly lyrical theme. Violin and cello echoed one another seamlessly as the piano provided the perfect backdrop, full of dramatic ebbs and flows. There was admirable commitment to the intended spirit of this work and flawlessly matched phrasing among the three artists.
The largo featured delicious trepidation, like tiptoeing steps by a frightened child. Sure enough, there was even an eerie surprise motif that snuck up suddenly and several spooky passages with effective use of fermata. The final driving movement was rambunctious, with plenty of spunk, although Hoebig's enthusiasm rendered some of the more forceful phrases a little rough.
Karl Stobbe was violin soloist with Moroz for the popular Spring Sonata in F Major, op. 24. His fluid, confident playing was the evening highlight. The piano shares the stage equally in this work and Moroz matched Stobbe's flow and singing quality throughout.
Stobbe is not afraid to bring his own unique interpretation to this much-played work and it is as valid and satisfying as any. The adagio was light and fluttery, like a tiny bird alighting on a branch. The playful scherzo was a fiery, rhythmic chase, while the rondo began with a bouncy lightness that grew stormier and stormier until the end.
The Septet in E Flat Major, op.20 included several Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra first chair players. Meredith Johnson (double bass), Micah Heilbrunn (clarinet), Patricia Evans (French horn), Alex Eastley (bassoon) and regular WCMS member, Daniel Scholz (viola) joined Hoebig for a grand finale.
Initially, the rich fullness of the ensemble's sound was promising, with good balance. We revelled in Heilbrunn's gorgeous tone. Evans offered up solid fanfares and Johnson brought added bounce to the adagio with his perfectly articulated bass line. Scholz made the first variation graceful and bright.
Hoebig led the group in workmanlike fashion and herein lay the problem. While her colleagues were expressive, subtle and gentle, she played with an edge bordering on brash. The exception was the ornate second variation, which she gave humour and finesse.
In the scherzo, her overzealous playing became shrill, overriding the others. Her brief cadenza in the final movement was technically sound, but the showmanship detracted from the substance.
The impression was that of competition rather than collaboration.
Gala Opening Concert
Winnipeg Chamber Music Society
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Oct. 23 Attendance: 200
three and 1/2 star out of five