Lowe Down

Hungarian composer Ernö von Dohnanyi (1870-1960)

The term ‘strange’ in describing classical music is usually relegated to contemporary works. But, Musica Camerata Montreal performed two works that couldn’t be described otherwise Saturday at the city’s intimate Chapelle Historique de Bon-Pasteur (Historic Chapel of the Good Shepherd), one by an established composer, another by a composer famous in his time.

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is perhaps best known for his “Finlandia” and violin concerto, as well as his seven symphonies. His Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 56, composed in 1890 while the composer was still a student, he later described as “complete rubbish,” and it’s also extremely difficult to perform.

Still, Musica Camerata found the beauty of this lush late Romantic work, giving it a passionate and virtuosic performance. Often, as the work enjoyed a lyrical direction, it made a dramatic turn. There were segments of rich beauty, juxtaposed with agitation and rapid-fire virtuosity. But rather than moving seamlessly from one to another, they just seemed to happen. Although it didn’t make a lot of musical sense and seemed bipolar, there were gorgeous and exciting parts.

Musica Camerata, which has long made a specialty of excellent performances of unknown works, is led by Luis Grinhauz, former concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony, and his wife, pianist Berta Rosenohl. They were joined for this concert by violinist Van Armenian, violist Victor Fournelle-Blain and Sylvain Murray, all members of the Montreal Symphony, for some truly high-end playing.

The other work on the program, in a decidedly different flavor, Ernö von Dohnanyi’s Quintet No. 2 in E-flat minor, Op. 26, made the Sibelius sound cohesive, and he didn’t have the excuse of youth. Dohnanyi (1870-1960), Hungarian composer, pianist and conductor, was 37, though it was 1914 and the beginning of World War I.

Like the Sibelius, there was plenty of lush Romanticism and dramatic virtuosity, and Dohnanyi mixed a Hungarian Romantic flavor with a Germanic Brahms flavor, but it was even more bipolar. Interestingly, at the age of 72, Dohnanyi moved to the United States to teach at Florida State University, where he taught Ellen Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer in composition.

Musica Camerata Montreal continues to provide excellent performances, often enlightening its audiences with the unexpected.

Jim Lowe is music critic and arts editor of The Barre-Montpelier TimesArgus and the Rutland Herald, and can be reached at jim.lowe@rutlandhearld.com or jim.lowe@timesargus.com.

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