Musica Camerata

Clarinetist Eric Abtamovitz was featured in Saturday’s Musica Camerata Montréal.

MONTREAL — Fifty years is a long time, but Musica Camerata Montréal is going strong as it closes half a century as one of Canada’s finest chamber music ensembles. Amazingly, its founders remain the backbone of its music making — and they’re in top form.

Violinist Luis Grinhauz, recently retired assistant concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony, and his wife, pianist Berta Rosenohl, led a rich and rewarding concert Saturday at the Chapelle historique du bon-pasteur, that underscores the ensemble’s missions — first, it introduced beautiful music not in the standard repertoire and, second, it highlighted a young up and coming performer.

Clarinetist Erik Abramovitz, the 20-something associate principal of the Toronto Symphony, was featured in three of the four works on the program. Most familiar was Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83, with violist Sofia Gentile and Rosenohl, which showcased Abramovitz’ depth and warmth. In addition to the requisite virtuosity, he plied the lyrical lines with an overt yet controlled expressiveness, for a real sense of its Romanticism.

Gentile, a violist with the Montreal Symphony, matched Abramovitz’ expressiveness all the way. She imbued her warm inviting sound with nuance and passion. Holding it all together, and delivering the Romantic power was Rosenohl, whose precision, clarity and grandeur belied her compact size.

Abramovitz and Rosenohl also shone in the 1970 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000). The neo-Romantic Latin-flavored score is full of lyricism and wit, which was delivered with joy. Abramovitz’ refined and nuanced playing in the slow movement, Andante, was simply exquisite.

Grinhauz and Rosenohl “returned to their native Argentina” for the world premiere of the tango-inflected “Postales de Buenos Aires,” written for them by Juan Carlos Cirigliano (b. 1939). The four vignettes are sunny and Latin in the melodies and rhythms. Grinhauz’ sweet lyricism and Rosenohl’s punctuating rhythms proved a sheer delight, as well as authentic.

The most unusual work was by Bernard Hermann (1911-1975), composer of soundtracks for “Citizen Cane” and “Psycho.” His 1967 “Souvenir de Voyage,” a quintet for clarinet and strings, is much in the same vein as his movie music, though more directly compelling.

Abramovitz, Grinhauz and Gentile were joined by violinist Van Armenian and cellist Bruno Tobon in a performance that was fluid and articulate, creating changing moods with often-subtle expressiveness. Parts were like a clarinet concerto, and the final Canto amoroso (andante) felt almost Viennese.

This is the third season for Musica Camerata Montréal at the intimate Chapelle historique du bon-pasteur, which seems ideal for the concerts. The ensemble employs a unique formula, where concerts are on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and last only 90 minutes. It seems to be working — given this weekend’s packed house.

With its high energy and quality playing, it looks like Musica Camerata Montréal is ready for another 50 years.

jim.lowe @timesargus.com

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