Amici’s unique Friday night performance entitled Critics’ Choice entertained requests from three notable music critics and connoisseurs from the greater Toronto area. It also featured a composition by Ezra John Pablo, a grade 12 student in the Claude Watson Arts Program at Earl Haig Secondary School.

Serouj Kradjian, © Bo Huang
Serouj Kradjian,
© Bo Huang

Ezra John Pablo was welcomed to the stage by a warm, intimate crowd at Glenn Gould School and while describing his piece he merely stated, “There’s not much to say; it sounds great!” That was a slight understatement as guest violinist Yehonatan Berick and Amici pianist, Serouj Kradjian collaborated in what would surely be an unforgettable performance for Pablo. You and I featured four movements, each characterizing new distinct themes that were full of emotion and unexpected surprises. Yehonatan and Serouj artistically incorporated rubato, adding substantially to the texture. Their extensive and precise dynamic contrast painted Glenn Gould studio with an array of color, enhancing the mood and engaging the audience more deeply in the composition. The essence of the piece was well captured and defined through heavy block chords and clear call and answer sections through the final “Grave” movement.

The second selection of the evening came from Classical 96.3 programmer, producer and host, John Van Driel. Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio, Op. 11 was composed in 1797 and was part of a series of early chamber works composed in response to the popularity of and demand for music featuring woodwind instruments. Amici began the first movement with a distinct sound; a sound which one would instantly characterize as Beethoven without any preconceived knowledge of the repertoire. The transition of the melody, as well as call and answer themes, were executed seamlessly throughout. There were a few minor occasions where the fast piano accompaniment was off-beat; however, this was resolved quickly and with little repercussion. Joaquin Valdepeñas’ high register flourished and the notes were light, as though floating on a cloud. The second movement welcomed a lovely, melodic cello solo from David Hetherington with an elegant accompaniment from Serouj. The third movement was written featuring nine variations on the then-popular dramma giocoso, L’Amor Marinaro, ossia Il Corsaro by Joseph Weigl. This movement provoked an enormous amount of energy and excitement from the ensemble. Their fingers, attacks, and releases were fluid, rapid and precise despite the fast tempo. Serouj flaunted his incredible skill using the left hand to produce deep notes in the style of a string bass. Their mastery of tempo control was astonishing, through clean accelerandos as well as strictly-defined diminuendos.

The program progressed towards the twentieth century with Colin Eatock’s selection of Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet. This unique piece was commissioned by clarinetist Benny Goodman and was written in the summer of 1962. Its première came a few months after Poulenc’s death, when Leonard Bernstein accompanied Goodman at Carnegie Hall on April 10, 1963. The piece commenced very abruptly with extreme clarity from both Joaquin and Serouj. A wonderfully mysterious tone was shared between piano and clarinet, showcasing the rising and falling melody lines. Following what seemed like the conclusion of the first movement, the piece resumes with a relaxed tempo and the continuous motif of declining and inclining lines similar to those at the beginning of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin. Joaquin became animated when performing the various trills and ornamentations, making his clarinet dance with formidable excitement and emotion. Part way through the second movement, a few issues arose when switching between clarinet ranges using the register key. Joaquin’s sound became airy at times which he attempted to fix throughout the piece by adjusting his reed.

To conclude the program, the Amici welcomed Yehonatan Berick (violin), Min-Jeong Koh (violin) and Barry Shiffman (viola). Sir Edward William Elgar’s Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84 was selected by John Terauds, freelance writer for the Toronto Star, whose reasoning behind this selection was: “It’s just a beautiful piece of music.” It was written at a cottage in Sussex where Elgar went to get away from the war and it was the last piece his wife Alice heard before her passing. The larger group of musicians introduced the piece with a subtle and gentle approach. This developed into a larger sound where their musicality allowed them create the illusion of flutes and clarinets. Their intonation was precise and it ensured that each harmony came through with a bright, vivid tone. The accelerandos and diminuendos were vastly drawn out, as opposed to the sudden tempo changes in Poulenc’s Sonata. Constant eye contact and breaths produced precise pizzicatos as well as even and accurate entrances on short notes. As the piece progressed, the illusion of woodwinds transformed into the tone of vocalists, whose song resonated through Glenn Gould Studio. Concluding what seemed to be an almost perfect performance, fatigue set in following the Grandioso section, and in the final theme there was a tempo tug of war between the piano and strings and neither could consolidate a tempo until the final chord.