CMColumbus Heading 

St. Lawrence String Quartet's unique voice captivates

By  Lynn Green
For The Columbus Dispatch, Sunday September 16, 2012 12:17 AM
Reproduced with permission

Chamber Music Columbus opened its 2012-2013 season at the Southern Theatre last night with a strong, inspiring performance by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. 

Their opening work, Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in D Minor (Quinten), set a high standard for the rest of the season. These musicians have mastered not only dynamics, timbre and articulation, but also the gravity of each note. A fairly “typical” classical work suddenly came to new life. 

The ensemble is not so much a single voice as four distinct voices on a single mission. Instead of focusing on the melody and peripherally hearing its relationship to the other instruments, the listener can follow all four musicians simultaneously as they interact to create the finished product. This is an engaging approach to interpretation. 

This quartet’s unique strength, however, is refusing to pander to the obvious. They slyly drew a bit of bubbling joy out of Haydn’s stoic style with occasional delicate, languishing figures. Haydn’s deceptive cadences seemed unpremeditated and were as unexpected as they would be upon a first hearing of the piece. The Menuetto, known as the Witch’s Minuet, was odd, stumbling and devoid of almost all metrical indicators, reinforcing its mischievous character. 

The name of Osvaldo Golijov’s 2011 quartet Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) is, according to violinist Geoff Nuttall, probably the only thing remaining of the composer’s original idea for the piece. The piece is “still evolving” and, in its present form, comprises what Golijov calls “a cosmic motorcycle ride” and a movement based on a Brazilian pop song. 

In the first movement, short ostinato-like motives combine with a soaring violin solo, evoking the simultaneity of hyper-focused attention and zenlike “mindlessness” that defines a long ride on a motorcycle. The second movement, though not as engaging, does show interesting traces of the composer’s study with George Crumb in its solo lines, tremolos and glissandi. 

Franz Schubert’s Quartet in G Major is well-known as a departure from his typical song-based compositional style. Whether or not he was attempting to emulate Beethoven (as is often reported), the quartet is unique among his works. 

Instead of trying to fit the piece to a preconceived idea of “Schubert,” the St. Lawrence String Quartet let it speak for itself. The result was sometimes harsh, sometimes charming, sometimes derivative and sometimes avant-garde. The first movement, full of chords and agitation, sounded like an extended overture that was hastily edited, but as the movements progressed, the influence of Beethoven’s theme and development style became more apparent. 

With a season that includes such other noted musicians as Spencer Myer and the Kronos Quartet, Chamber Music Columbus has started off on the right track for a good year.