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Nassau Music Society’s Quartetto Gelato melts hearts

The Nassau Music Society, under the distinguished patronage of His Excellency Sir Arthur Foulkes, Governor General of The Bahamas, was delighted to present Quartetto Gelato at the College of The Bahamas on Friday night. In his opening remarks, Patrick Thomson reminded us that the Nassau Music Society had been established in 1961 by E. Clement Bethel, whose widow, the eminent educator and past President of COB, Dr. Keva Eldon-Bethel, recently passed away and was gratefully remembered in a moment of respectful silence.

Quartetto Gelato comprises four multi-talented Canadian musicians possessed of great virtuosity and wit, and with a taste for sparklingly exotic plumage. The laugh lines throughout and the costume changes between the first and second halves of this eclectic, ethnic program were highly entertaining. You had to be there!

Founding member Peter de Sotto is both an outstanding gypsy violinist and an operatic tenor, with his Estonian background evident in his blond mane, and his Italian background obvious in his powerful voice and impassioned delivery. Indeed, Mr. de Sotto’s voice was anything but sotto, particularly in the last two pieces on the program. He was resplendent in a dark silver lamé jacket, as befitted the lead vocalist and violinist.

Alexander Sevastian, a four-time World Accordion Champion of Russian descent, appeared dressed entirely in Johnny Cash black to match his appropriately complex instrument, although he traded his black shirt for a fiery orange one during the second half of the program. The speed and the dynamic intensity with which he played made it obvious to all that his international competition accolades were well deserved. Note to Alex: Ya tebya lyublyu!

Elizabeth McLellan, a classical cellist with a list of degrees, awards, and appearances too numerous to mention, was the kickiest member of the group in terms of apparel. For the first half of the program, she wore a black sequined tank top and a gold sequined short skirt with high-heeled black boots. For the second half, she wore a sky-blue dress that was almost a tutu in that the straps were transparent and the skirt was very short and highly flounced and crinolined. Liza cheerfully explained that she wanted to remind us that she was”the girl in this group.”

Colin Maier, attired in a long burgundy and black Regency-period coat with silver buttons, was the wild card in this ensemble, both literally and figuratively. An accomplished acrobat and actor as well as a top-flight oboist and clarinetist, Mr. Maier has performed with Cirque du Soleil and also in many stage and television shows. During the second half of the Quartetto Gelato performance at COB on Friday night, attired in a bright red satin shirt and a black vest with black stretch pants, while wearing red, white, and black patent shoes, he did splits, somersaults, and even danced a highly spirited czardash as the gypsy fiddling and accordion glissandos rocked the concert hall.

As for the program, it was quite varied in terms of countries of origin; and many of the arrangements were made by the members of the quartet themselves. We first heard Salerno’s Tango Del Mare, whose distinctive rhythms were accentuated by the stomp of the booted foot of violinist de Sotto. This was followed by Gannon/Giraud’s Under Paris Skies, before which we were told that we would be going to Paris to get an”eye-full.”(Groan.)Remaining musically in la belle France, we next heard La Vie En Rose, with Peter’s violin singing with heart-breaking expressiveness and beautiful vibrato the melody made famous by Edith Piaf.

Leaving France, we next heard von Weber’s Konzertstuck Opus 79, a virtuosic tour de force which was introduced by Alex, who spoke of something near and dear to his heart: Russian and Ukrainian pierogies!I have yet to understand the relationship of the pierogies to the Konzertstuck, unless consuming them filled Alex with the joy and excitement that he needed to perform the piece at lightning speed. As they played, the musicians moved around on the stage, converging first upon one player and then upon another. Flashing overhead pink and blue stage lights heightened the frenetic pace of the work.

We were then ready to hear some soothing works in the laid-back Latin style. First was Donida’s Al Di La, featuring Colin on the guitar and Peter on the violin. Peter introduced the piece by paying tribute to his 84-year-old father and noting that this piece was the first where he, Peter, was permitted to play the solo melodic line. Next was Granda’s La Flor De La Canela, featuring Colin on the clarinet this time, as the other players nodded, enjoying an easy, playful camaraderie. Then, Lara’s lovely Solamente Una Vez as sung by Peter was the victim of much tearful mugging.

The last piece on the first half of the program was the Hungaria by Kossovits. It started out as a melancholy duet for violin and oboe as performed by Peter and Colin, respectively, but then it abruptly shifted gears and became a wild, gypsy-inspired piece accompanied by Peter’s foot-stomping and violinistic pyrotechnics and Alex’s raging glissandos on the accordion. This was Magyar music at its most magnificent.

The second half of the program opened with Pasculli’s Oboe Concerto in which Colin utilized circular breathing, described as an incredible”trick”whereby the instrumentalist simultaneously takes air in through the nose and expels it through the mouthpiece. This enables the musician to sustain incredibly long phrases seamlessly. Colin had been lovingly described as Quartetto Gelato’s resident freak because he plays 14 instruments and is also a dancer and acrobat. To prove this latter point, during his graceful and expressive solo, Colin literally hopped up onto two facing chairs, which were then slowly pulled apart as he continued to play until he did a full split.

This incredible display of musical and physical expertise was followed by Piazzola’s Meditango, which opened with and featured Liza on the cello and Alex on the accordion. The cello sang most exquisitely and hauntingly before the piece became a full-fledged quartet of separate but equal partners in a dramatic prelude to a more subdued finale. Next we heard Duran’s Suite Latinoamericana, which was accompanied by percussive thumps, plucks, and scratchings on the various instruments.

Monti’s Czardas with the ever-versatile Colin on the mandolin and Peter once again in the role of gypsy violinist was a musical riot, much to the delight of all present. Hurtling forward at breakneck speed, there were swoops and flourishes, foot-stomps and dramatic pauses, bird calls and emotive embellishments, and of course audience participation consisting of”Hey!”s and claps, all to great comic effect.

We next heard Pixiguinha’s Um A Zero, a work with South American flair and rhythmic syncopation that featured Colin on the oboe. This was followed by a wistful number, Bésame Mucho, written by the 15-year-old Mexican composer Velázquez as introduced by Liza and sung by Peter.

The last offering on the program was introduced by Colin, who shamelessly and smilingly mentioned that it always received a standing ovation. He apparently subscribes to the Cats’Rules:#1: Always ask for what you want.#2: Don’t take”no”for an answer!This work provided us with the opportunity to hear Peter in full operatic splendor(finally!)as he sang the Romanian Caravan by Dinicu/Various, accompanied in antic glory by all the other members of the quartet but especially by Colin, with knee bends and squat kicks. Portions of this work were delightfully and exuberantly reminiscent of klezmer music, and the Standing O was indeed forthcoming.

The evening’s entertainment then concluded with the encore O Sole Mio by Di Capua as sung once again by Peter, thankfully once again in full voice, as he accompanied himself on the mandolin. The audience responded with yet another standing ovation, and everyone left smiling.

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