Chamberfest 2018 wrapped up Thursday night with a masterclass in string ensemble playing from I Musici de Montréal.
The 35-year-old chamber orchestra founded by cellist Yuli Turovsky has been under the direction of Jean-Marie Zeitouni since 2011 (Turovsky passed away in 2013). Zeitouni has been able to maintain the luscious sound and technical discipline cultivated by Turovsky, while injecting I Musici performances with his own brand of informal, infectious enthusiasm and energy.
The guest soloist was the remarkable 23-year-old Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman, who gave a subtle, mature, unaffected performance of Schumann’s cello concerto, playing the 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius on loan from the Canada Council’s Instrument Bank (Crozman is competing for a chance to borrow the legendary instrument for another three years). He played this compact concerto with an elegant sense of bel canto, slender vibrato, and supple phrasing.
Crozman also took over the arresting solo composed for Turovsky himself in Denis Gougeon’s Coups d’archets. Alone onstage, the cello appears to be calling the ensemble scattered through the hall. The members are drawn to its voice like moths to a lightbulb, playing fluttering, motifs as they gather around. The rest of the work is a display of bravura string playing, with opportunities for the musicians to show off their individual chops. André Prévost’s Scherzo for String Orchestra, another showpiece written for I Musici, had opened the evening with similar virtuosity.
The program ended with Britten’s Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge. Each movement presents a different style and form — Viennese waltz, funeral march, Italian serenade — and Zeitouni gave each one ample panache and distinctive, tongue-in-cheek character.
As an encore, I Musici offered a meltingly amorous performance of Elgar’s Salut D’Amour.