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ARC Ensemble Toronto at Canada House
17 November 2004

Rebecca Clarke viola sonata
Omar Daniel You are where you are
Moisei Weinberg piano quintet

It is always good to try a new venue for music, and the hall at Canada House (triple glazed to keep out the noise of Trafalgar Square's traffic) is a good one. Making its first European Tour, to Stockholm and the UK, a group of seven musicians brought to London the high skills of the Royal Conservatory's teachers in an interesting programme, drawing attention to one of Canada's most important cultural centres.

Omar Daniel's You are where you are is a little song cycle with piano quintet, treating topics of location and identity. He sets one-sided fragments of mobile phone conversations, such as those we constantly are forced to overhear, an idea of great potential, but not fully realised in this setting of short texts by Yann Martel. Bass Robert Gleadow assuredly has a great future ahead; note his name.

Moisei Weinberg's youthful piano quintet (1944) is a vast, sprawling work of profligate teeming inventiveness, aptly compared in the programme with that of the young Britten and Shostakovich. Put over with complete conviction by David Louie (piano) and colleagues, I thought at first that it deserved a secure place in the small piano quintet repertoire, alongside Shostakovich's own of 1940 (their idioms are similar and they were close, mutually admiring friends), but I am not sure that I would want to hear the lengthy third and fourth movements again more than very occasionally.

Best of all for us was the first item, Rebecca Clarke's richly romantic Viola Sonata, its full stature brought out uninhibitedly by Steven Dann and a powerful pianist, Dianne Werner. Dann is a persuasive soloist and there was no risk of his being covered by his partner.

The sonata has an interesting history. Rebecca Clarke was born in London in 1886 and Stanford, her composition teacher at the Royal College of Music, suggested that she take up the viola. In 1916 she visited the USA and in 1919 entered her viola sonata for the Coolidge prize only to be beaten into second prize by Ernst Bloch's suite for viola and piano. The scores were judged anonymously and there was incredulity amounting to disbelief that the sonata turned out to be by a woman; even suggestions that Bloch had entered both works and used a pseudonym!

The Artists of the Royal Conservatoire should be invited back to UK and satisfaction would be guaranteed at the most prestigious chamber music venues, such as Wigmore Hall.

© Peter Grahame Woolf