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The round of quartets ended with a fine performance of the Sixth, a mostly sombre work Bartók composed in 1939, during a period of great personal difficulties. His mother had died, war and tyranny loomed ominously for Hungary, for all of Europe, and the composer was coming to terms with having to leave his beloved homeland, never to return.

'Live' experience of this music brings into sharp focus the central place of the viola in several Bartók quartets, and very much in this final one. The plaintive opening solo, a mesto (sad) theme that turns into the core of the Sixth, was articulated with delicious anguish by the Orion's Steven Tenenbom -- whose playing on both evenings deserves a far stronger accolade than any single, brief mention. Timothy Eddy's exuberant cello playing was no less impressive, filling the hall on both nights with suggestions about the work that, given the time and incentive, Bartók might have created for the solo instrument.

The Orion Quartet has toured all of Beethoven's works in the genre, and recorded string quartets by Mendelssohn, Dvorák, Debussy, and a long list of living, mainly US composers. Clearly, they are also well at home with Bartók, having delivered compelling readings throughout. Their strongest suit, to this ear, is in measuring up to and even excelling with the ensemble challenges that these chamber works present.

This outstanding round of performances was among the most notable to grace Ottawa's musical stages in a decade. Two nights of the Orion Quartet's Bartók was music for one's very, very short list.

Copyright © 28 November 2006 Bert Bailey, Ottawa, Canada



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