Camerata Review

George Onslow (1784-1853)

MONTREAL — It’s unusual for classical music concerts to program late 18th century music and early 19th century works where all of the music is virtually unknown yet the composers were all prominent in their own time.

That’s just the kind of programming likely to be heard at a Musica Camerata Montréal concert, thanks to violinist and Artistic Director Luis Grinhauz, recently retired as assistant concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony. At Saturday’s performance at the Chappelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur, this excellent ensemble shed light on three works that the audience likely had not heard before, let alone heard of.

Perhaps most rewarding was the Piano Quintet No. 1 in B minor, Op. 70 (with the same instrumentation as Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet) by George Onslow (1784-1853), French despite his English name. Onslow’s work was admired by Beethoven and Schubert, while Schumann, a critic as well as composer, considered him on a level with Mozart and Beethoven. Though he certainly isn’t that, this quintet reflects imagination and craftsmanship of a very high level, and a flavor and style that mixes the storytelling of Schubert and the rich lyricism of Schumann.

It helped that the quintet received an excellent performance by members of the Camerata. Grinhauz and his pianist-wife Berta Rosenohl were joined by violist Sofia Gentile, cellist Sylvain Murray and double bassist Eric Chappell, all members of the Montreal Symphony. Save for Grinhauz and Rosenohl, the makeup of the ensemble changes to fit the program.

Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) is said to have influenced Beethoven and opened the doors to the Romanticism of Chopin and Schumann. He was also a virtuoso pianist, which can be heard in his Piano Quintet in F minor (with the same instrumentation as the Onslow). Rosenohl delivered this virtuosity with verve and flair, while the strings played with warmth and passion. There were moments of extreme beauty in this sprawling work.

Mozart was an adult when he discovered the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and arranged several preludes and fugues from the elder composer’s Well-Tempered Clavier. But he also arranged one by J.S. Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedman, which was performed Saturday. While not as compelling as J.S. Bach’s, this Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in F minor, K. 404a, received a charming and expressive performance by Grinhauz, Gentile and Murray.

Musica Camerata Montréal concerts are always an adventure, and Saturday’s was no exception. The high level of playing and depth of musicianship lead to happy discoveries of another era.

jim.lowe @timesargus.com

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