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The performers Sunday, senior pianist Anton Kuerti and the youthful Tokai String Quartet, played it as if their lives depended on it, and their audience was duly transfixed and transported.

…the group itself may be the most gifted and interesting Canadian string quartet since the St. Lawrence.

Ken Winters, Globe and Mail

 

The Tokai, which was formed in 2002, is a rather hot-blooded quartet thanks in part to the intense, high-contrast playing of first violinist Amanda Goodburn. She imparted an air of risk to almost everything she played, as if merely picking up a bow were to accept a duel with the infinite.

This kind of leadership worked extremely well with the fugitive humour and high drama of the opening allegro of Haydn’s String Quartet in G. major Op. 77, No. 1. The aria-like adagio showed off Goodburn’s impressive lyrical gifts, while retaining a feeling of high-stakes pressure.

Of course it takes four to make a quartet, and Goodburn’s attentive partners (violinist Csaba Koczo, violist Yosef Tamir and cellist Rafael Hoekman) played their roles with spirit and sensitivity, in the robust final movement and at quiet moments as well. The arresting ensemble hush that introduced a series of potent modulations in the adagio was, for me, one of the most memorable moments in the performance.

Robert Everett-Green, Globe and Mail

 

Still, it was Crumb’s Black Angels that ultimately stole the show. Written at the height of the Vietnam war, the string quartet is full of unexpected effects (chanting, bowed wineglasses, crashed gongs) and screeching dissonance. Yet as rendered by the Tokai String Quartet, Crumb’s score was as full of beauty as anger, which made the quotes from Dies Irae and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden feel iconic rather than ironic. At times heart-stoppingly intense, the music said more about the power of American culture than any Sousa march ever could.

J.D. Considine, Globe and Mail

 

Canada is blessed with a number of top-notch trios and quartets. Now you can add another name that of the Tokai String Quartet – to the already impressive list.

Named for a noted Hungarian wine, the Tokai are graduates of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music but hail from various parts of the world.

First violinist Amada Goodburn came to Canada via South Africa and England, second violinist Csaba Koczo was born in Hungary, violist Yosef Tamir grew up in Moscow, while cellist Rafael Hoekman was raised in St. John’s, Nfld.

The Tokai are recent winners of the Fred Gaviller Memorial Fund award, which takes the form of a professionally organized debut concert.

That concert, at the St. Lawrence Centre’s Jane Mallett Theatre yesterday, was an impressive calling card.

It opened with two bold choices. Haydn’s String Quartet in G Minor Opus 20, No. 3 is rarely performed and it’s not hard to understand why. It is a strange piece, full of potential pitfalls – starts and stops, irregular phrases and unusual melodies – ample opportunities for raggedness and mistakes.

But the Tokai seemed to relish the piece’s eccentricities, responding crisply and decisively to the challenges.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110 is similar in that it also offers few places to hide.

It’s a disturbing piece that lashes itself into frenzy before slipping gradually into a calmer frame of mind.

Inspired by the hideous fire-bombing of Dresden, there’s a not- quite sane feel to it, hints of a kind of danse macabre.

The Tokai’s emotional investment in the piece was intense and impressive.

The String Quartet in A flat Major, Op. 105 by Dvorak offered a glimpse of a more relaxed quartet, at times cheerfully bucolic, at others, filled with brooding romanticism.

The strong colours of this quartet brought out the foursome’s gift for sustained lyricism – not to mention an impish sense of humour.

Members of the Tokai are also pursuing careers with some of Canada’s leading orchestras, such as the Toronto Symphony and National Ballet Orchestra.

Its future is undoubtedly bright and it will be interesting to see how the Tokai develop – collectively as well as individually. Review

Robert Crew, Toronto Star