Review: Violin duo, Klopoushak and Huizinga, run The Gamut with energy and finesse

Carissa Klopoushak is the new interim artistic director of Ottawa Chamberfest.

Wednesday’s Chamberfest lineup highlighted the talents of several Ottawa-area musicians. Kelly-Marie Murphy’s composition Oblique Light received its local premiere at the Penderecki Quartet concert at Dominion-Chalmers. Earlier in the afternoon, NACO principal cellist Rachel Mercer performed with her Ensemble Made in Canada colleagues at the National Gallery. And the late night offering at La Nouvelle Scène featured NACO violinist Carissa Klopoushak playing an eclectic array of duets with fellow globe-trotting fiddler Edwin Huizinga.

This was the second appearance together for Klopoushak and Huizinga, but both musicians share a curiosity about violin music outside the classical tradition. Klopoushak has a particular interest in folk tunes linked to her Ukrainian heritage, while Huizinga sees ties between Bach and Celtic fiddle music, and, more recently, has started exploring the musical traditions of the Balkans.

The program lived up to its name, The Gamut, with the duo playing everything from Leclair, Bach, Bartok and Prokofiev to Irish-American reels, Carpathian fire dances, Bulgarian love songs, Swedish polkas and even a headbanging contemporary mashup that saw both players whipping their hair around like rock stars.

Edwin Huizinga played with disarming grace and delicacy. Photo: V. Tony Hauser

Huizinga is around six-and-a-half feet tall, with long blonde curls and a beard and he looks like an extra from Vikings. But he plays with disarming grace and delicacy, with a kinetic sense of dance phrasing that extends even to his Bach. Everything is light, loose, and pliant, but I found myself wishing that much physicality could be put to better use with a bigger tone, steadier intonation, and a more stable bow technique

Klopoushak was the more consistent of the two, her virtuosity more muscular and impressive. Her Bartok had an especially pleasing grit to it, fleet-fingered but earthy.

Switching to gut-stringed instruments, the violinists presented an interesting juxtaposition by alternating movements from a double sonata by sophisticated French Baroque composer Jean-Marie Leclair with Bartok’s music for two violins inspired by Romanian folk music. But their best joint effort was a tantalizing first movement from Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins, the work’s rigorous form and counterpoint draped in the most flattering colour and refined sentiment.

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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.