A Night of Musical Perfection

Perfect harmony: Frisson Ensemble’s oboist and artistic director, Tom Gallant, centre, with the orchestra’s members (Photograph by Dorothy Shi)

Frisson Ensemble, Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts

Earl Cameron Theatre City Hall

Frisson Ensemble is made up of eight master musicians, young graduates of the top music schools in the United States.

Their skills and repertoire knowledge are such that they can swap places with one another without notice as was evident when Jordan Bak replaced Caeli Smith on violin in the first half of the show.

As an ensemble, in the true sense of the word, their touch is light, their musicianship perfect. One also feels that there is an underlying bond of friendship among them which makes for perfect teamwork, an almost extrasensory ability to anticipate as well as support the other musicians.

The music they offered under the leadership of oboist Thomas Gallant was unusual, diverse and varied in instrumentation.

Richard Strauss’s 1895 tone poem Till Eulenspiegel portrayed the master trickster and lord of misrule of folklore in a series of musical sketches at once galumphing, skittish, farcical and polka-like. Swiss composer August Walter’s four movement Octet in B-flat followed.

The opening allegro had a festive feel about it; Victorian music hall tunes such as Tarara Boom De Ay came to my mind. The scherzo was a romantic and tender waltz-like movement.

Rossini’s William Tell would have despaired of catching up with the furious gallop of the finale, which in turn was offset by the double bass and bassoon which gradually, and unexpectedly came to dominate the end of the piece.

We returned for an exquisite, minimalist divertimento by Michael Haydn. As bassist Sam Suggs explained, the piece embodies the purest form of the classical music of the 18th century, where the confluence of melody, harmony and bass embodied the composer’s creative choices.

The woodwinds then gathered for three Cuban dances by Ignacio Cervantes from the late pre-tango 19th century — unmistakably habanera and at the same time polka-ish.

Gabriel’s Oboe by Enrico Morricone from the film The Mission — played with great intensity and ineffable yearning by Thomas Gallant — was followed by two 17th-century Irish pieces by Turlough O’Carolan: Captain O’Kane and Planxty O’Rourke. Oboe, clarinet and cello seemed to grow together, imitating and interleaving each other to bring this music to vibrant life.

The ensemble finished with Tom Moore’s ballad (and here lies a Bermuda connection) The Last Rose of Summer. Sam Suggs said that the song symbolised the transience of life and the inevitability of its end. But this evening we saw musical perfection.