Koerner Quartet shows plenty of promise in Vancouver

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      At Mary Olson Hall on Sunday, November 2

      How do you coax Vancouverites out of the warmth and comfort of their homes on a dark, dreary, and very, very wet Sunday afternoon? Lure them with chamber music from the great masters.

      The Koerner Quartet’s promise of music by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms had plenty of local music lovers braving the elements, and they were duly rewarded for their effort.

      The Vancouver Academy of Music’s quartet in residence, founded in 2012, may be a newbie on the local scene—this season marks its first public concert season—but its members boast serious pedigrees. First violinist Nicholas Wright is assistant concertmaster with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and coheads VAM’s violin department. To his left sits Jason Ho, principal second violinist with the VSO. Cellist Joseph Elworthy, a fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music, is executive director of VAM and was, until this year, a member of the VSO. Rounding out the group is violist Emilie Grimes, a member of the VSO and Juilliard School graduate, who is taking over from the outgoing Marcus Takizawa.

      With the performance crammed into the academy’s Mary Olson Hall—a scheduling conflict had the quartet booted out of the Koerner Recital Hall because of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions—the mood on Sunday was on the casual side. Elworthy introduced the opening Haydn String Quartet No. 5 in D Major, Op. 64, the “Lark”, by noting the composer’s sense of humour and querying, “Is it a bird call or is it just malarkey?”

      Malarkey this wasn’t. Nothing casual about the players’ attention to detail here—bow stroke to bow stroke, vibrato to vibrato, they worked in kinship to bring the music to life with a thoughtful, stately approach. If there was anything wanting, it was a little bit more recklessness, particularly in the sprightly third movement and the galloping finale.
      Beethoven’s vigorous String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18 followed, with the quartet forcefully bringing out the urgent punctuations of the work and doing justice to the score. Again, however, the performers could have benefited from a little more spontaneity.

      The final piece of the program had violist Takizawa join the group for Brahms’s String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111, and his presence may have accounted for the sense of greater confidence among the players. From the luminous opening bars of the first movement to the rollicking conclusion of the finale, the music was both note-perfect and very much alive.

      It’s early days yet for the Koerner Quartet, but certainly its members are on the road to claiming a space all their own on the local scene. Whether they’re the next Purcell Quartet remains to be seen.