The St. Lawrence and Ying String quartets gave a joint concert Sunday evening under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City. These two quartets have performed together frequently since 1992 and will hold several more joint concerts throughout the United States during the current season.
These eight young musicians are all outstanding chamber players who exhibit fine musicianship and superb technique together with an uncanny understanding of their repertoire. However, their attitude to performing is quite different. The Ying players, who, incidentally, are siblings, are more subdued in their presentation, although very enthusiastic in their play.The St. Lawrence members, on the other hand, are more extroverted in their gestures, especially first violinist Geoff Nuttall, who is quite excessive in his movements to the point of being distracting. He is a top-notch violinist, but someone needs to tell him that he still can bring out the drama and emotions in the music without jumping up and down on his chair and swaying to and fro and sideways. It's too much of something that isn't necessary in the first place.
The program that the two quartets chose featured three early works by three very different composers, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schoenberg.
The highlight of the evening was Schoenberg's "Transfigured Night," performed by the St. Lawrence Quartet, together with Philip Ying, viola, and David Ying, cello. Schoenberg was only 25 when he wrote this work in 1899. He later reworked it for string orchestra, but the original version for string sextet is the most effective in bringing out the evocative nature of this work.
The music clearly shows that Schoenberg was indebted to Wagner for the melodic/motivic material and to Brahms for the full, mellow harmonic texture.
This is powerful, dramatic, very gripping music fraught with almost overpowering emotions, a true fin-de-siecle work in the intensity of expression, yet also Schoenberg's most beautiful work and his most listenable one, too.
This was a strong performance by these six outstanding string players. The performance was nuanced and well-defined and brought out the emotional content without being overpowering. The audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of this performance.
The first work on the program was Beethoven's Quintet in C major, op. 29, from 1801, performed by the Ying Quartet, along with Lesley Robertson, viola. They performed this work with style and finesse. The tender lyricism of the slow movement was delicately phrased and played with deep feeling and was the most successful of the four movements, although they played the lively finale, with its changing moods, with a lighthearted touch that highlighted its playfulness.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Mendelssohn's Octet in E flat major, op. 20. This was written in 1825, when Mendelssohn was only 16, and the work's lighthearted melodicism was played by these eight musicians with a lightness of touch that gave the music a fleeting, ethereal quality. It was chamber music of the highest order.
This was inspired chamber music, and one can only hope that these exuberant young musicians soon will return to Salt Lake.