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In performance: St. Lawrence Quartet

Web-only review:

St. Lawrence Quartet impresses with new Adams, Viñao
by Robert Battey

Cheers and whistles resounded through the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on Friday evening, as the St. Lawrence String Quartet presented a world premiere by Argentinean composer Ezequiel Viñao and a local premiere of a John Adams quartet.

Viñao, who studied with Milton Babbitt and Olivier Messiaen, has settled into a far less cerebral style. His piece -- a single, quarter-hour blast of energy -- presents, as he puts it, a "reinterpretation of minimalism." It commingles elements of South American and Middle Eastern music in slowly morphing textures. Musical objects appear to float slowly by on a river of jagged but continuous rhythms. The work lacked dynamic contrast and any meaningful harmonic progression, but its groove and texture were almost electric, with audience and performers exhausted by the end. The composer received vociferous applause.
(read more after the jump)

Adams's impressive new effort (his first full-length "pure" quartet, without accompanying electronics) is an ambitious work of nearly a half-hour, in two movements. The first starts off in his familiar motoric style, but gradually more varied characters emerge and a wider canvas is created. Dynamic contrasts, idiomatic string writing and elements of older formal patterns created a rich narrative. There was a scherzando passage that could have come from Stravinsky, and numerous episodes of varying texture and emotional content. The second movement harkens back to his earlier "telegraph" rhythm pieces, later devolving into the craziness of Carter or Wuorinen.

The full house responded lustily to both premieres and the vigorous, high-octane performances. The St. Lawrence Quartet was hanging by its fingernails in the Viñao (to judge from body language), but the musicians will certainly grow more comfortable with it over repeated performances, which it clearly has earned.

-- Robert Battey

By Anne Midgette  |  December 7, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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