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Concert Review: Silfay String Quartet Quartet delivers another enjoyable and different concert at MacKay United Church

By Alex Binkley on February 13, 2019

There has been a fluidity over the years in the membership of the Silfay String Quartet that is a mainstay of the MacKay Chamber Music series but it always delivers an evening of wonderful music.

The Feb. 9th concert at MacKay United Church was no exception as regulars Leah Roseman and Mark Friedman were joined by Jethro Marks, the NAC Orchestra’s principal violist, and cellist Thaddeus Morden in a presentation entitled The Volga in honor of composer Nikolai Afanasiev. The program was superbly rounded out by works by Dimitri Shostakovich and Franz Joseph Haydn.

It’s always a treat to watched skilled musicians play together to bring out the most they can from the music. This foursome certainly appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves entertaining the audience.

Afanasiev (1821–1898) learned music from his father and composition from studying the works of famous composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. He did well enough to be appointed concertmaster of the Moscow Opera Orchestra at age 17. An online biography says he subsequently toured Russia and Western Europe as a soloist before settling in St. Petersburg.

It’s always a treat to watched skilled musicians play together to bring out the most they can from the music.

Afanasiev’s music—and he wrote in virtually every genre—is filled with the melodies of Russian folk songs and the rhythms of Russian folk dances. Though he and his music are, to some extent, still known within Russia, today he is virtually unknown elsewhere. Although, his quartet The Volga enjoyed a modicum of popularity for some decades during the last part of the 19th century, especially in Germany.

He was a good choice in Silfay’s quest to bring seldom heard music to MacKay concert attendees. While the composers on the program are well known, Shostakovich’s 7th string quartet, a tribute to his late wife, and Haydn’s Opus 76 No. 1, composed late in his career, are not heard very often either.

The Volga was intended to depict the life of the music of the boatmen who worked it and capture the sounds of a flowing river they would have listened for. As a result, the composition features a wide range of playing for the musicians.

The result is the kind of music that can transport your imagination to a distant venue from the hard wooden pew you’re sitting in and hope you hear it again.

Visit mackayunitedchurch.com for more about the MacKay Concert Series.