St.Lawrence String Quartet at Music Toronto reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, April 2, 2009, Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto.

The Quartet is poised to play the opening notes premièring a Brian Current piece they co-commissioned with Stan Witkin and Music Toronto to celebrate the SLSQ’s 20th anniversary. Entitled “Rounds”(2009), this nine minute single movement composition sketched in Kyoto and written in Toronto is an overlapping sequence of melodic phrases repeated like a traditional ‘round’ with the difference that Current’s repetitions create an energetic range of textures.

The opening texture is like a high frequency shimmering voiced by a tremolo up on Scott St. John’s first violin accompanied by a low hum from Chris Costanza’s cello. The effect is like an ensemble tuning.  The shimmering develops into a more distinct utterance, like a murmuring across which the cello draws a sequence of abrupt, harsh, two note phrases—dark strokes with a wide brush across a newspaper collage. This texture develops further into the full ensemble complexity of a four part round. The momentum is suspended for a moment, and then the next round begins out of a shimmering.

There are four repetitions of this pattern, each time uttering new textures, short and fleeting, long and waving—like the pulsation of Philip Glass’s koyaanisqatsi—locomotive choo-choos, whistling cello glissandos, ghostly twitterings, rustling of irritated tree spirits exacerbated to a rapid, forte crescendo and false ending, from which the piece rouses itself again to a knock-out finish.

For two other pieces on the program, the Quartet were joined by two founding members, Cellist Marina Hoover and Violist Barry Shiffman, and played two sextets, Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht (1899) and Dvorak’s Sextet in A, Op.48 (1878). Whether it’s Quartet or Sextet, whether it’s Schoenberg’s chromatic, sometimes muted and sometimes dissonant melodrama, or the abundance of dancing melodies of Dvorak’s bewitching  Opus 48, the music is animated by a tonal richness, distinctly articulated and bouyed by a passion that is the trademark of the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

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