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Photo by Pablo Borowicz on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Concert Review: Bassist Hilda Cowie enhances the Silflay Quartet

By Alex Binkley on January 31, 2017



The Silflay Quartet has been a mainstay of the MacKay United Church Chamber Music Series, treating Ottawa audiences to a wide variety of classic musical. For their Jan. 22 concert they added bass player Hilda Cowie.

While it was their first performance together as a quintet, their music sounded like they played together on a regular basis. Cowie’s bass blended in beautifully with violinists Leah Roseman and Mark Friedman, violist Paul Casey and cellist Karen Kang. All five are members of the National Art Centre Orchestra.

The performance was entitled “Full Spectrum”, and Silflay as usual selected a wide variety of compositions both to entertain the crowd and to show off their musical talents along with Cowie’s. The first half of the evening was selections from Antonin Dvorak’s Quintet in G major, written in 1875 when the composer was still developing his style. It was delivered in a crisp, entertaining style.

After an enjoyable dose of classical music as most would expect, the second half of the evening was an eclectic mixture of seldom heard pieces by composers whose names likely score big in Trivial Pursuit contests. It began with Giovanni’s Bottesini’s Elegy No. 1 in D major. This piece gave Cowie an opportunity to showcase her considerable abilities.

It was followed by Karl Goldmark’s Quintet opus 9 and Louis Laporte’s Intermede-Pizzicato, in which the five musicians plucked rather than bowed the strings of their instrument. The next selections were Vasa Laub’s Valse Noble opus 30, Egressy Beni’s Kapka-Indulo and Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango. The compositions covered a wide slice of musical styles. Hearing the various pieces makes the obscurity of their composers appear regrettable.

The evening concluded on a haunting, melancholic note with Mark O’Conner’s Appalachia Waltz, composed in 1993. O’Conner had the distinction of being the only living composer on the program.

The evening’s program noted that Silflay’s name comes from a word borrowed from the widely-popular novel Watership Down by the late Richard Adams, and means browsing above ground for tasty food, much like the quartet samples a lot of music before they perform it.

The final event on the 2016–17 concert series will be Friday, March 3, with a program entitled “La Valse de’Amélie” by Montreal pianist Jana Stuart. It will feature Stuart’s interpretation of music from great films as Amélie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Les Intouchables along with Chopin, Debussy and Rachmaninoff compositions.