Jemma Wolfe

Sr. ANDY Editor

Five minutes into the concert had me questioning why I don’t listen to more classical music. Twenty minutes in had me convinced to take up the cello. There I was at the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton on Sunday, January 22, for the 5 at the First’s concert, totally mesmerized by the talent on stage before me.

The 5 at the First concert series was established in 2010 and has since featured many renowned yet local musicians performing a repertoire of chamber music. Executive Director Michele Corbeil explained that, “‘5’ refers to the number of concerts that are in the series and the word ‘first’ refers to our venue – the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton.” For the 2011-2012 season, the theme is love and Sunday’s show of duets had a couples motif woven through it, amplified by the musicians’ discussion of the composers and selected pieces immediately prior to playing them, which elaborated on the romantic histories of the compositions.

The first performance was a viola and cello pairing by Caitlin Boyle and Rachel Desoer, respectively. Their rendition of Walter Piston’s “Duo for Viola and Cello” was intense, moody and dark but still pleasant to hear. Boyle and Desoer were captivating to observe; these old friends exchanged frequent glances with each other and were evidently happy to be performing together. The sound of cello and viola – an unusual combination – was very complimentary and the dynamic between musicians put a nice spin on the couples theme. Corbeil elaborated, “One of the benefits of our venue that makes chamber music so wonderful is how close to the musicians you can be… Audience members can see the musicians up close, see their facial expressions and how they communicate with each other through their instruments and music.”

Their duet was followed by “Two Choros bis (1928) for Violin and Cello” by Heitor Villa-Lobos, performed by Yehonatan Berick on violin and Rachel Mercer on cello. This Brazilian piece, heavily influenced by folk and street music, was eclectic and energetic. The sound of Mercer’s 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius cello also added to the beauty of the performance. This valuable instrument has been on loan to Mercer from the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank since 2009 when she won a competition granting her use of the Stradivarius until August of this year.

The third couple to perform was husband and wife duo Csaba Koczó (on violin) and Theresa Rudolph (on viola). They played “Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola” by Bohuslav Martinu, upbeat pieces with a Renaissance feel, with their obvious deep bond adding a deeply personal feel to the music.

The final piece, “Sextet No 1 in B Flat Major Op 18” by Johannes Brahms, brought all six musicians together for a theme in variations that was rich in sound and texture. After witnessing each performer’s talent on a small scale in the couples section, this grouping was a welcome chance to hear the big sound this larger grouping could produce. This was a gorgeous collaboration by old friends who took the opportunity to “get together and do what we love,” as Mercer said, to the benefit of their captive audience.

This talented ensemble thoroughly entertained the crowd gathered at the First Unitarian Church last Sunday afternoon, and certainly convinced one student to pay more attention to the classical genre in the future.

5 at the First’s next show of the series will take place on Saturday April 7, 2012 at 7:30pm at the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton. Tickets are $5 for students and can be purchased at the door. See www.5atthefirst.weebly.com for more information.

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