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CHAMBER REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, May 9, 2021
St. Lawrence String Quartet. Geoff Nuttall and Owen Dalby, violin; Lesley Robertson, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello

St. Lawrence String Quartet

STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021

Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying.

The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplemented with interviews and commentary with GMC Executive Director Jacob Yarrow. A brisk tempo characterized the opening movement, with uncommon seating placing violist Lesley Robertson far right of the socially distanced masked foursome filmed in Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall had a stylized approach to this lovely composition, with energetic movement of his legs complimenting his thematic projection. Attacks and releases throughout were precise, and the ending of the Adagio was played with a soft elegance. The Menuetto was rightly played as a Scherzo with light spiccato bowing and handsome ascending note phrasing.

The finale (Allegro ma non troppo) is mostly in G Minor, and received a lively reading with fast scale playing, short motifs and clear counterpoint. The big repeat was played softly with subtle duos from Mr. Nuttall and violinist Owen Dalby. A splendid performance of one of Haydn’s last quartets he composed as a set.

Interviews in the intermission revealed erudite commentary from each St. Lawrence member, with cellist Christopher Costanza (ZOOM from his home, as were each musician) speaking of how the composer deliciously treats the cantabile cello line in the C Major Quartet of Op. 20. All four movements in this work from 1772 are marvelous and received terrific playing, especially in the slow movement that starts in unison, always a little tricky to synchronize. The second movement featured Mr. Nuttall’s lyrical solo playing.

A fugue was heard in the finale, played by the St. Lawrence sotte voce nearly all the way through, but near the end suddenly erupting in volume. Here the momentum was palpable, the two violins lines often playing to the cello/viola lines with lots of descending scale passages. This seminal work clearly is special to the St. Lawrence, as it gives more attention to the cello and viola parts than in previous quartet writing that can be overly first-violin-centric.

The video concluded with an arrangement, written for the St. Lawrence, of Golijov’s traditional Yiddish song “Arum Den Fayer.” In four and one-half minutes there was a variety of music that had depth and at times a shimmering Czardas character. The Quartet members announced that it was a recent work with a connection to COVID 19, and the video was shot in a Stanford classroom. The slow section was especially convincing with Ms. Robertson’s wide vibrato playing and everywhere a noble and subtle instrumental intensity.

Daniel Greenhouse contributed to this review.