Friends of Chamber Music

St Lawrence Quartet

1st Violinist: Geoff Nuttall 2nd Violinist: Barry Shiffman Cellist: Alberto Parrini Viola: Lesley Robertson

Venue: The Vancouver Playhouse

Date: Tuesday, 22 October 2002, 20.00

Mozart: String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat Major, K. 428 Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11

Reviewer: J. H. Stape

Contrary to myth, lightening can strike twice in exactly the same place. It did so for the Friends of Chamber Music's third concert, which featured Toronto's St Lawrence Quartet, a week to the day after The Osiris Trio. Auspiciously and boldly named after the mighty St Lawrence River, the quartet, founded in 1989, has a richly earned reputation as a force on the international music scene. Tuesday's concert showed fully how and why, offering a prodigious display of musicianship and musicality in a programme designed to stimulate and challenge.

The performance of Mozart's "String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat Major" was dutiful, correct, and well tempered with this evenly balanced group hitting the exactly right notes of propriety and decorum in this pleasant Haydn-influenced work, but as the remainder of the evening amply displayed the St Lawrence's heart truly lies in the modern rather than classical repertoire.

This was a polished, sincere reading on all counts, with characterful playing and sombre intensity when required, but it was an obligatory stoking of the fire that burst into a bright, incandescent, and utterly irrepressible flame in the Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky quartets that were the evening's real and ample feast.

Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, in five movements, is not a work for the faint hearted. Charmingly and informatively introduced by first violinist Geoff Nuttall, it was given a forceful, no-holds-barred reading that was brilliant coloured and thoroughly persuasive.

From its aggressive opening to its adagio conclusion, the quartet received a simply masterly rendition that by turns excited and moved the near capacity audience. The work's lyrical character was exploited with finesse and sensitivity, while the technical challenges of the headlong, chaotic allegro were met squarely and with gusto. Geoff Nuttall's virtuoso contributions were breathtaking in intensity and force throughout the evening but nowhere more so than here where he shone with complete authority.

The warm lyricism of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 in D Major came as a relief after the emotional draining meditations of Shostakovich on the fortunes of Russia in the Second World War. The folk elements in the Tchaikovsky quartet presented a profoundly life-affirming contrast to the dry bleakness so richly mined by his later, unhappy countryman.

A warm, lush tone gave self-confidence and certitude to Tchaikovsky's statements, with a robust and celebratory character being the overall impression. The famous Andante that brought Tolstoy to tears was presented lovingly, its Slavic character fully conveyed by the stylish and idiomatic collaboration on offer.

As an encore, the St Lawrence Quartet favoured the audience with a work by Jonathan Berger, currently a colleague at Stanford University where the quartet is the "quartet in residence." Here again, the group wore its heart on its shirtsleeves giving Berger's modern soundscape a tense, involved performance.

This was a superb concert distinguished by a subtle clarity of playing and musciality of the highest character. If one has a spare birthday wish, a request for Santa, or a genie in a bottle, it would be that the St Lawrence Quarter return to Vancouver very, very soon.

© 2002, J. H. Stape