Turovsky Leads Famed I Musici de Montreal
I Musici de Montreal posters wallpapered the Conservatory this week; I was prepared to listen to some chamber music. After all, it is an all-strings ensemble led by cellist/conductor Yuli Turovsky (father of above-mentioned Natasha,). What my ears heard redefined what I had expected.
The program included Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile and his Serenade for Strings. In the second half, the ensemble presented the Nocturne for Strings by Borodin and Turovsky’s arrangement of the Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky.
“Tonight the program [features] all-Russian composers,” said Turovsky. “For some concerts, I chose pieces only by one composer, for others I have to improvise and I’m constructing very eclectic program.”
There were 15 people on stage, and right from the beginning I was sure that each one of them was an incredible solo performer. The striking thing was the incredible coherence they achieved as an ensemble with a perfect dynamic balance.
Turovsky led them with a strong hand and they, in turn, responded to his smallest hint of motion. He knew his ensemble like his own five fingers; it was a well-oiled machine that worked without a mistake.
One major characteristic of I Musici de Montreal was their incredibly soft cantabile sound, which sustained from the first note to the last.
This color was something I was unprepared to hear. This subtle sound settled somewhere in the middle between a string quintet and a middle-sized chamber orchestra from Mozart’s time.
After the short and utterly charming Andante Cantabile, which acted like an overture, the Serenade for Strings followed. The first movement was passionate and extraordinarily polished, with a noble and warm character. The virtuosic passages of the two celli did not interrupt the flowing melody.
The second movement was the well-known Waltz, which bears the rich atmosphere of a court dance from a Russian aristocratic ball. The third movement was prominently romantic, somewhat opposite to the classical flavor of the first movement. It was captivating with its beauty and graciousness. I Musici captivated the audience with its beauty and graciousness, so that they followed every note played.
As soon as I thought that the music couldn’t become any softer or more tender, the fourth movement started in incredible pianissimo. The long, stretching folk-like melody shone over the stage and expanded the horizon beyond anything heard before in the concert.
Sophomore Gabrielle Athayde said, “ I think that the lack of vibrato, which the ensemble seems to think will create a folky style, actually worked in the third movement.”
She pities some of the troubles that the cellist had with his tuning in the fourth movement, “but his gusto is a welcome force at the start of the coda and his passionate last chord was really beautiful.”
The second part of the concert began with Borodin and with the energetic solo of the cello, answered by the high, crisp, sharper solo of the first violin. Dialogue between the instruments continued to the end, with a never-ending pursuit for perfection.
In the cello part, this perfection could have included a little bit of fine-tuning during the piece — something that the cellist attempted to do with partial success.
The music was gracious and charming, with many dynamic shadings, but mainly in a mezzo forte dynamic.
It was exactly this constant mezzo forte that started to provoke an uncomfortable question in me.
Was it meant to be that way or was it that a small ensemble of 15 strings simply was incapable of achieving something more than piu forte, something more than just the polite, warm color that was sustained for already, three-fourths of the concert? I was anticipating the Pictures at an Exhibition to answer this persistent question.
“It was scary to do this arrangement,” said Turovsky. “Many people asked me ‘How dare you?’ because the well-known orchestration by Ravel that established itself as an authentic original. Will it be possible for me to achieve something with setting for a string ensemble?”
Eventually, it was possible. Turovsky included many new elements (interesting pizzicatos at the beginning, which contrasted with the dolce melody that followed), and combined with it some old. (Many things from Ravel’s version were heard.)
“I was aiming to recreate the effect of an orchestral color in some movements,” said Turovsky. “For example — in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev,’ I tried to imitate the bells and the gong with a constant sustain of one note in the first violins and the celli and the double bass.”
Still, I needed more: More variety of dynamics, more colors, more space and more diversity in character; more richness and fullness of the sound. I was able to hear those in some of the movements: “Samuel\ Goldenberg and Schmuyle,” “Catacombes” and “Baba Yaga.”
The tempos of others (“The Old Castle” and “Bydlo”) were not the traditional ones, which gave them an interesting new personality of their own.
It was quite interesting and exciting to hear all those professional strings
and to learn about the difficulties in adapting a famous orchestral version.