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October 11, 2011

St. Lawrence String Quartet opens Shriver Hall Concert Series

Folks convinced that they hate chamber music should spend a couple hours with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The conversion rate would surely be high.

This group, which opened the 46th season of the Shriver Hall Concert Series Sunday evening, backs up impressive technical skills with a level of infectious enthusiasm, not to mention an ability to communicate.

In violinist Geoff Nuttall, the ensemble has an unusually effective spokesperson. It's no wonder that he recently succeeded the affable Charles Wadsworth as chamber music director at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC.

Wadsworth earned famed for his folksy, droll introductions at concerts. Nuttall can also deliver aural program notes in an animated, amusing style, as he did throughout Sunday's concert (maybe a little too often).

In addition to knowing how to coax an audience into listening harder, he can even get them to ...

talk louder during the music. Yes, talk.

To illustrate a point, Nuttall asked the Shriver Hall crowd to chatter away -- "Don't be polite" -- as the ensemble sat down to play Haydn's C major Quartet, Op. 74, No. 1. The composer, Nuttall said, began the score with two bold chords meant to stop the din that, in pre-concert-etiquette days, would have been going on at the work's premiere.

Whatever the musicological grounds might be for that risky shtick, it made an amusing start to the program. But it was the playing that really paid off, especially the rich nuances the musicians produced in the trio section of the minuet and the bravura they sustained in the finale.

Nuttall, playing first violin, sometimes sacrificed purity of tone, but the great character in every phrase proved worth it. Violinist Scott St. John, violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Christopher Costanza matched that character and offered exemplary articulation as well.

Two plaintive, darkly beautiful pieces by Osvaldo Golijov found a worthy champion in the ensemble. "Tenebrae," with its mix of trembling, melancholy and echoes of Couperin, cast quite a spell. So did "Kohelet," freshly written for these musicians. St. John, now in the first violin chair, phrased the long-held notes of the primary melodic line exquisitely.

Dvorak's G major Quartet, Op. 106, received a taut, unabashedly openhearted performance.  The playing had a gripping intensity, not just in the most passionate outbursts, but in many inner details, such as the second violin's edgy pizzicato notes amid the slow movement, delivered by Nuttall with almost demonic force. 

PHOTO (by Marco Borggreve ) COURTESY OF SLSQ.COM

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:40 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall


The program said that they would play Dvorak Op. 105, and Geoff Nuttall announced that they'd decided to play Op. 106 instead. He then named its four movements -- Allegro moderato, Adagio ma non troppo, and so on -- and he sounded just like a waiter in an Italian restaurant.

For what it's worth, he also sounded remarkably like Wadsworth when he recited those movements. TIM

Duke Performances in Durham, NC is presenting the St.Lawrence String Quartet on December 10th. Here is an interesting article about them--from our blog, "The Thread":

"Interview: Christopher Costanza on Golijov’s Ashen Bells":

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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