Quartetto Gelato’s Epic Performance at Music & Beyond

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Photos by Ed DeGroat

Eclectic by design is how Quartetto Gelato describes themselves. How else could you portray a band of musicians comprised of a violin, cello, oboe, and accordion? Yet for 25 years, they have distinguished themselves among the best entertainers because of their exotic blend of musical virtuosity, artistic passion, and humour. Sunday's concert as part of the Music & Beyond Festival delivered on their promise with an energetic performance.

Quartetto Gelato is now considered a popular and highly unusual classical quartet. The group's concert programs typically offer a mixture of works, from the traditional, to the folk-inspired, to the operatic, and arrangements of various works, classical and otherwise. Formed in Toronto in 1993, they have developed a large classical and crossover audience. Their most recent CD, All Original – 100% Canadian, contains 11 new works.

The first thing I noticed when the quartet took the stage was that Elizabeth McLellan, cellist was replaced by Greg Gallagher. It was explained that Liz McLellan was pregnant. When they sought another cellist, Quartetto Gelato hired another woman who also became pregnant. Jokingly, they explained their hope that Greg would not become pregnant, although he is about to be married in two months.

The other members were familiar. The spirited Peter De Sotto, founder, violinist, and tenor extraordinaire. He has yet to miss a performance and played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 11 years. Russian born and recent Canadian citizen, Alex Sevastian, who is four times world accordion champion, slides his fingers in lightening speed over his 227 key bayan instrument. And then there is Colin Maier – player of 12 instruments, 3rd degree black belt, gymnist and has performed in the Cirque du Soleil's KA among other theatre productions – is amazing.

The concert began with Romamolda Hora – a traditional circle dance arranged by De Sotto and Seveastian. I certainly wanted to get up and dance with the entrancing music. Played with much gusto the quartet admitted it was played faster than was practical.

The next two pieces where introduced asking the audience to image themselves in a romantic French cafe perhaps on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Beautifully played renditions of Under Paris Skies by Kim Gannon/ Hubert Giraud and La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf/ Louis Guglielmi. The musical phrasing was sensitive, full of life, and making your heart soar like you could fall in love.

Next a Brazilian pre-Bassa Nova tune, Cigano No Baiao, by the famous violinist Fafa Lemos. Everyone swings and salsas in Brazil and the arrangement with accordion had me swaying in my seat.

Keeping on the eclectic selection we were treated to three pieces from their new CD. Celtic Dances by Charles Cozens is a fast paced medley of the three Celtic dances; reel, waltz and jig. Rebecca Pellett's, C'era Una Volta, sounded like a film score for which she is famous. I felt like the title evokes that Once Upon a Time there were two lost lovers, the violin and the cello calling desperately for each other. Finally, Jossy Abramovich's Gypsy Fantasia reminded me of something I could have heard in a Cirque du Soleil show.

Colin Maier displayed an incredible talent with the next number. A traditional piece called Pipes, he played his oboe with circular breathing so that combined with the rest of the musicians they sounded like a bagpipe. Incredible!

A smokey and sultry performance of Astor Piazzolla's Meditango, captured the dramatic pulse of the tango. Presented with intensity even in the softer interludes – it was a delight right up to the suspended note at the end.

To lighten the mood, Peter De Sotto sang a lovely Volare Domenico by Domenico Modugno. He had the audience join in the refrain. It was somewhat cheeky and bouncy in contrast to the previous piece.

A song that always melts my heart is Carlo Donida's Al Di La. De Sotto's strings sent shivers up my spine. It was just divine.

And then I was thrown back into lounge land with Consuelo Velasquez's Desame Mucho. Again De Sotto's pleasant voice championed this piece. My only issue is that I had difficulty hearing him in the church.

The final piece of the evening was various selections from something called Romanian Caravan. It was a display of virtuosity that the audience loved.

Certainly, the Ottawa audience loves the Quartetto Gelato. What is there not to love. It was  epic entertainment.