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Quartetto Gelato serves up panache, humour

The Georgia Straight

by John Keillor

Quartetto Gelato is the pinnacle of light entertainment – part chamber group, part cabaret, and part bar band. After a gorgeous arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, the ensemble asked the sold-out Chan Centre’s audience if anyone could give them a ride to their next show in Nanaimo. As the evening progressed, people were literally laughing and crying all around me. Quartetto Gelato also got something I’ve never seen before: a standing ovation at the intermission break.

This reception was in response to polished musicianship, an un­tarnished delight in performing, and panache to burn. And Quartetto Gelato knows how to work with its resources, repositioning on­stage between songs, telling humorous stories, and flirting with listeners in the front row. With only four people and a repertoire of light musical fare, surprises are continually necessary. Otherwise, the concert would be static, stuck, and merely like watching a pop group in a venue that doesn’t permit drinking or dancing.

Peter De Sotto sang tenor and played violin with aching, luminous, transparent delight. Accordion player Joseph Macerollo likewise glowed rhapsodic. George Meanwell alternated between cello and guitar with a less hammy, still benevolent presence, and Cynthia Steljes won everyone’s heart with her oboe and English-horn playing. They managed to touch everyone while keeping their audience slightly off balance, unsure of where the show was going, creating an ideal atmosphere for jokes. Before they performed two pieces by Mr. Tango himself, Astor Piazzolla, Macerollo warned: “The first piece isn’t a tango at all. The second one is – but it’s originally from Switzerland.”

And when it was time to wax melancholic, the songs were touchingly genuine. De Sotto sang “Words That I Want”, which Meanwell wrote for his fiancée at university, when the young couple were separated by the Atlantic. Meanwell’s tune was one of uncluttered longing, obviously composed in stoic isolation.

The highlight of the evening was … well, all of it. That’s how this sort of show is structured. For me, the best part was the traditional Hungaria, wherein the players duke it out musically, in a Gypsy style. “This is a rather violent piece; it’s Eastern European trailer-park music, 11 announced De Sotto. I’m from a trailer park near Penticton, and my date that evening was from Bulgaria; we found the ensuing melodic play fight to be unexpectedly, weirdly, wonderfully romantic.

You can’t fake Quartetto Gelato’s sincere warmth. The fakes who try to pull off this sort of delivery invariably produce a yawnfest of unbearable tedium. Such occasions generate a dribble of exhausted clapping. Quartetto Gelato produced cathartic applause, literally thundering. An encore performance of “Danny Boy” took their beatific schmaltz to new heights that were never campy. Camp would imply a tragic lining to the evening’s pleasure. This concert satisfied every musical sweet tooth in the house with unadulterated, over-the-top joyousness.

Thu Feb 7, 2002