Concert Review: Borealis Opens Concert Series With Flair

Borealis String Quartet with Imant Raminsh

Borealis String Quartet members Nikita Pogrebnoy (left), Patricia Shih, Yuel Yawney and Sungyong Lim celebrate with Coldstream composer Imant Raminsh (centre) after their world premiere performance of Raminsh’s Quartet No 3 at NOCCA’s gala opening of its 2015/16 season Thursday.— image credit: Christine Pilgrim

Review by Christine Pilgrim – Vernon Morning Star

Borealis String Quartet has played prestigious venues in New York, Rome, Beijing and Toronto, but it chose Vernon’s Performing Arts Centre to premiere the work specifically written for it by Coldstream’s Imant Raminsh, at the North Okanagan Community Concert Association (NOCCA) gala opening of its 2015/16 season Thursday, Sept. 24.

When the very first performance of his Quartet No 3 ended, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Raminsh quipped with his characteristic twinkle, “I’ve never heard it played so well.”

And indeed Patricia Shih on first violin, Yuel Yawney on second violin, Nikita Pogrebnoy on viola and Sungyong Lim on cello performed with unsurpassed clarity, integrity and artistry; energy too, particularly in Shih’s case.

They enthused about Raminsh’s Quartet No 3 and plan to include it in their regular programming.

“They’re wondering when I’ll come up with Quartet No 4,” said Raminsh. “I’m wondering too. Quartets are hard to write.”

Effusive epithets regarding Borealis’ immaculate precision and musicianship also applied to the other works on the program, Beethoven’s Quartet No 4 in C Minor and Dvorak’s Quartet No 12 in F Major (subtitled the American).  Unlike the American, Raminsh’s Quartet No 3 is not yet subtitled. And instead of an all-encompassing key signature, each of his quartet’s four movements has a kind of tonal centre as a point of departure and return.

Although cellist Sungyong Lim only recently replaced long-time Borealis member Bo Peng, he shone in exquisite solo interludes in the American. In fact, every member shone individually at varying intervals. Their music sounded like a distinguished, mellifluous conversation. When one instrument soared above the rest, the others made room for it.

If only parliamentary debates could be conducted with such delicacy and deftness.

But Borealis members weren’t the only virtuosos on stage. Seventeen-year-old violinist Julien Haynes, accompanied on piano by Lauren Dvorak, opened the concert with Vittorio Monti’s version of the Hungarian traditional dance Czáardás (pronounced shardash), with a maturity beyond his years.

Liszt, Brahms, Delibes and Tchaikovsky have also written versions of Czárdás, which derives from the word czárda, meaning tavern, and, according to some, was used by the Hungarians to inspire their youth to join the military.

However, the audience loved Monti’s version, perhaps because of its familiarity. And everyone loved Haynes’s rendition of it, disregarding the mistake he masked with panache when enthusiasm overtook accuracy towards the end.

One minor disappointment: the audience didn’t “rise to the occasion” to invite the final encore Borealis so richly deserved.  Perhaps they found the program choices too unfamiliar or a tad long. And, despite the elegant stage dressing, flamboyant foyer display and innovative fundraiser, selling piano keys for NOCCA’s replacement Steinway grand, those present didn’t quite embrace the gala spirit that volunteers worked so painstakingly to create.

But they will get another chance to enjoy NOCCA’s diverse programming on November 1 when Christine Tassen et Les Imposteurs perform gypsy jazz with a different flavour, but with the same flair as Borealis.

–  Christine Pilgrim is a freelance writer who reviews the NOCCA season for The Morning Star.