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CHAMBER REVIEW
Mill Valley Chamber Music Society / Sunday, September 28, 2008
St. Lawrence String Quartet

DIVERSE PROGRAM LAUNCHES NEW CONCERT SEASON

by
Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society began their new season Sept. 28, welcoming back the St. Lawrence String Quartet in an attention-grabbing, high-energy program of Haydn, Alban Berg, and Dvorak. Of the three works brilliantly performed, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite was the most riveting, framed by the Haydn Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, and Dvorak's romantic Quartet in G Major, Op. 106.

Composed in 1926, the Lyric Suite marks Berg's drift from tonality to atonality. The St. Lawrence's lead violinist, Geoff Nuttall, provided a fascinating explanation of the 12-tone serial technique and the meaning of the composer’s secret, but unrequited love, written into each movement. The other members of the ensemble—Scott St. John, violin; Lesley Robertson, viola; and Christopher Costanza, cello—demonstrated short motifs from each of the six movements, helping to keep Sunday’s capacity audience listening with rapt attention. Although they performed with passion and sharp precision, at times the ensemble seemed to play with a kind of edgy, urgent tone, rather than tonal elegance. But on balance, the Berg was a tour de force. I

Haydn’s masterful E-Flat Major Quartet opened the concert. Written some 150 years earlier than the Lyric Suite, the piece highlighted the elegant style and tone that typifies the St. Lawrence. Dvorak’s buoyant Quartet in G-Major concluded the afternoon, adroitly played with a rich cello line from Christopher Costanza.

The Mount Tamalpais Methodist Church in Mill Valley offers an intimate space for playing chamber music with warm acoustics. Most of the audience members are only a few feet from the musicians, and every gesture, coordinated entrance, and interpretative nuance can be watched. The Mill Valley Society has an understandably loyal audience, and the St. Lawrence fully deserved the large ovation.