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Concert Review: New Orford String Quartet shine in Brahms and Debussy

You’d think after a week of string quartets at the Banff Centre that we’d want to hear something else to kick off the season in Vancouver. Guess you can’t have too much of a good thing!  The New Orford String Quartet was far beyond good, however.  This is a superlative group of musicians who are playing quartet repertoire at the finest level.  The quartet goes beyond being excellent string players and illustrated what it means to be complete musicians.  They offered the lucky audience at Music in the Morning a wonderful concert of Brahms and Debussy.

The New Orford String Quartet (NOSQ) started the concert with Brahms’ String Quartet in a minor, op. 51, no. 2.  The first movement featured excellent phrasing and a terrific sense of ensemble.   The playing was elegant with the group producing a truly luxurious sound.  The transitions between thematic material were well-executed and the rhythmic vitality was impressive.  In the second movement of the Brahms, the group created a rich sound.   They achieved the tenderness necessary for this music and the effect was quite touching.  The thematic motif was passed effortlessly between the members of the quartet, demonstrating their amazing ability to communicate with each other on stage.  The third movement of the Brahms is a reflection of the composer striking the balance between classicism and romanticism.  The NOSQ played impeccably and set the mood very well so that one had the impression that many of the musical parts were simply floating beautifully.  They played this movement with imagination.  Finally, the fourth movement of the Brahms quartet was an exciting affair. Although energetic and driven, it was never unpolished.  There were great dynamics swells and the quartet showed the recurring harmonic tension all the way through to the thrilling finale.

The Debussy String Quartet in g minor, op. 10, followed the Brahms.  The NOSQ played the first movement with a sense of freedom and the playing with infused with joy.  The soundscape that they created was truly symphonic in nature.  The vitality of the first movement was fantastic.  The second movement of the Debussy again showed the quartet’s ability to create dynamic contrasts.  The pizzicatos gave the movement a fantastic sense of energy and it was a very uplifting part of the performance.  One would be hard-pressed to find richer quartet repertoire than the third movement of the Debussy Quartet.  The audience was completely spellbound and one did not dare move at this beginning of this movement as each voice of the quartet enters.  The NOSQ played with great nuance and the sweeping phrases made this an unforgettable element of the performance.   The fourth movement featured great balance between the players and was a very convincing conclusion to a magnificent performance.


The New Orford String Quartet is Jonathan Crow (violin, concertmaster of the TSO), Andrew Wan (violon solo, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal), Brian Manker (principal cellist, OSM), and Eric Nowlin (principal violist, Detroit Symphony Orchestra)

The New Orford String Quartet formed in 2009.  Seven years later, those of us who have been in the audience for their shows can confirm how happy we are that these four spectacular players came together to form an ensemble.  Each member of the quartet pursues an extremely busy orchestral career (as principals!) and has a significant teaching load.  This does not prevent their evident dedication to string quartet repertoire.  Simply put, the New Orford String Quartet is one of the finest chamber music groups you can hear in a concert hall these days.  We the audience are the fortunate beneficiaries of their hard work, talent, and willingness to share their gift of music.

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