THE Winnipeg Chamber Music Society is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The current group has been together for more than a decade and they are gifted individual players. Together, Gwen Hoebig and Karl Stobbe, violins, Daniel Scholz, viola, Yuri Hooker, cello and David Moroz, piano are, on most nights, as good a chamber music ensemble as you will hear anywhere.
Something just wasn't quite right on Tuesday night in the first of their annual two-concert mini-festival, Mozart and More! Whether it was the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence of the transit of Venus or just not enough rehearsal time, this was not the quality of performance we have come to expect from this talented group.
And while there were certainly some high points, including the performance of special guest, cellist Desmond Hoebig, the program of Mozart and Brahms was disappointedly uneven.
Mozart's final string quartet, Quartet in F Major, K590, began with Gwen Hoebig, Stobbe, Scholz and Hooker in tightly meshed rhythmic unison. They played with lovely balance and gusto, offset by flowing melodic passages. Mozart wrote this work for King Frederick of Prussia who played the cello, so he gave the instrument many opportunities to shine. Hooker approached this modestly and tastefully. Scholz, in his passagework, made his viola sing like a sultry alto, satisfying and throaty.
Hoebig, amidst some commanding playing, did not project her usual rounded tone, but offered a rougher, less polished version that didn't suit the movement.
Deep, reverberating notes from the cello anchored the stately opening of the andante. A playful melody ran through much of this movement but often bordered on plodding. It needed a lighter touch -- which only some of the artists employed. Despite some sensitive playing, one yearned for it to be less careful and more carefree. Hoebig's final notes were pretty and delicate.
The deceivingly pert menuetto, full of intricate passages and loaded with grace notes was full of the unexpected and played with great energy and form. The finale featured a scurrying motif running from one instrument to the other before getting down to serious business. The quartet dove right in, never missing a beat, despite frequent stops and starts in the score.
Hoebig's brother, Desmond was the star of the second half of the program. Cello professor at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music in Houston, he brought his big sound to the stage for Brahms' Trio in B Major, Op. 8. Sister Gwen and Moroz joined him.
We were lured in immediately with his ultra-romantic opening solo. But when the piano entered it was a rude awakening -- as the chords were harsh and crashing and threw the entire section off balance. The Hoebigs play so well together, with matched vibratos as if by instinct, yet their mellow playing was marred by overpowering piano and even a few stumbles. This occurred several times throughout the work and is not typical of Moroz's playing. Perhaps lowering the piano lid would help alleviate the unfortunate volume situation.
The adagio, however, was beautiful, with piano and strings taking turns at the pensive, gradually growing theme. The cello solo passage was deeply emotional and warm. Moroz found just the right touch here, blending well. This was patient and intuitive playing by all.
The festival continues Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Mozart and More!
Winnipeg Chamber Music Society
Winnipeg Art Gallery
June 5 attendance: 200
Three stars out of five