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First Play: New Orford String Quartet, Par quatre chemins

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Robert Rowat

"One of our core missions is to perform existing Canadian music and to commission new works from Canadian composers," says Brian Manker, cellist of the New Orford String Quartet (NOSQ). The quartet's latest album, Par quatre chemins, features three new works by Canadian composers — François Dompierre, Airat Ichmouratov and Tim Brady — and is streaming in the player to your left until its Feb. 16 release on ATMA Classique.

"If time was unlimited, I think we would record all of the works we’ve commissioned," continues Manker. "But alas, we are subject to human limits. We want people to hear these works that we’ve enjoyed grappling with, adding to the ‘catalogue’ if you will, placing these new works out there alongside the classics."

In addition to Manker, the NOSQ comprises Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan (violins) and Eric Nowlin (viola) — all first chairs of either the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal or the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In 2017, their recording of string quartets by Brahms won the Juno Award for classical album of the year: solo or chamber ensemble.

'Multifaceted Canadian identity'

Manker says selecting the repertoire for their latest album was a difficult task. "We had to start somewhere, leaving out (for now) other works that we feel merit consideration. In the end, we went with the works we had the most performance experience with, and somehow we have a nice cross-section of the multifaceted Canadian identity represented by each composer."

The album takes its title from the first work on the disc, Dompierre's Par quatre chemins, whose five movements Manker describes as "jazzy, Latin at times; cinematic, even. It’s lyrical, energetic, elegant, clever and witty. I think people will love the Pavane!" Dompierre attended some of the recording sessions and, Manker says, made useful suggestions.

Next is Ichmouratov's String Quartet No. 4, Op. 35. "Airat’s quartet is emotional," reflects Manker of this four-movement work. "His musical language picks up where Prokofiev leaves off. He has a gift for melody and the music has motion, sweeping forward. The violin writing is brilliant."

Manker says Brady's one-movement String Quartet No. 2 ("Journal") is the most "modern-sounding" on the disc. "There are pulsating passages that surge, liquid, with plasticity."

With its ninth anniversary coming up this summer, a new album out, and no personnel changes since day 1, the NOSQ is on a roll. "We have some tours planned in the coming months and years, we’re as busy as we could possibly be! The chemistry in the group is fantastic, I feel our communication — the unspoken, musical communication — is deeper and more in synch every time we play," enthuses Manker, adding, "There is a familiarity that is very, very comfortable."

The NOSQ's Par quatre chemins will be released on Feb. 16. Pre-order it here.

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