August 2005

2005 Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival
The St. Lawrence String Quartet Play Haydn, Puccini, and Berger
by Stanley Fefferman
This quartet is youthful, hip and natural in an attractive California casual way. They got their concert off on a stable platform with a good-humoured performance of Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33 No. 2, and left no doubt about their reputation as a world class ensemble.

The next two offerings were more personal. Puccini’s super-lovely Crisantemi, a brief work dedicated to a deceased friend of his, which the ensemble dedicated to a recently deceased friend of theirs. It begins with a mournful cello and the ensemble in unison sighing over it, and ends with an alive and breathing gypsy air.

The last work, written last year by friend and colleague at Stanford School of Music, Jonathan Berger, entitled Doubles, is in three movements scored “Ethereal-Sinister”, “Furioso-Brutale-Tenderly-Brutale”, and “Jubilant”.

It begins with a sustained drone by the whole ensemble repeated 4 times while the viola plays what sounds like a highland lament with Appalachian overtones. The first and second violins then initiate the ethereal sinister dialogue while the cello and viola erupt a percussive chaos and the movement ends as if it hit a brick wall.

The second movement has the energy of a hive of enraged bees emerging from the heavy-handedly scraped bowing and rude pizzicato which merges in the third movement with a jubilant rendition of what sounded to me like the gallop of the Spanish Civil War folksong “Non Paseo” repeated many times, till the piece fades in a ghostly whisper.

Their energy was hugely appreciated. The accompanying photographs might convey a sense of the eccentricity and appropriateness of the St. Lawrence style.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Stanley Fefferman
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