St. Lawrence String Quartet – November 2, 2019

               Marking their 40th Anniversary, Chamber Music Kelowna continued their season-long celebration in fine style Saturday night by hosting a return visit from a perennial audience favorite, the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Having made their first appearance with CMK in 1997, founding members, first violinist Geoff Nuttall and violist Lesley Robertson have become well-known to Kelowna audiences, along with cellist Christopher Costanza who joined the group in 2003. Saturday night’s concert marked the first appearance in Kelowna for the newest member of the quartet, second violinist Owen Dalby.

                This season the SLSQ is marking their own milestone of 30 years since the quartet was formed in Toronto in 1989; even after over a quarter-century of touring internationally and establishing themselves as veterans in the string quartet world, the SLSQ has managed to retain a sense of youthful exuberance and reckless abandon that is rarely seen in established ensembles today.

                The program opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in D, Op. 76. No. 5. After sweeping onto the stage to hearty applause from the packed house at the Mary Irwin Theatre, Nuttall immediately launched into an enthusiastic preamble about F. J. Haydn, who both founded and (according to Nuttall) perfected the string quartet genre. The ensemble’s colourful interpretation and riveting performance had the audience on the edge of their seats for the duration of this four-movement work. Thanks to the auditorium lights being only partially dimmed, and the unfiltered musical enthusiasm and theatrical charisma emanating from the stage, the audience was spared the usual dozing and general classical music stupor that too often settles in at such concerts.

                The Haydn was followed by the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 112 by Camille Saint-Saens, a somewhat rarely played masterpiece from 1899. Very symphonic in nature, this work gave all the members of the quartet a chance to shine. The lyrical third movement garnered some unexpected and spontaneous applause from the audience, and while rattling some of the stalwart concertgoers, the SLSQ was un-fazed and launched head-on into the fiery and relentless fourth movement that concluded this dramatic work.

                The concert closed with Beethoven’s final string quartet Op. 135, No.16. Nuttall described this work as a “distillation of the classical string quartet” and Beethoven’s use of the “Muss es sein?” motif has led many scholars to suggest that Beethoven was intending this work to be a “summation of the human experience.” This was certainly a highlight of the program and the quartet’s mastery of ensemble really shone in this performance.

                After an enthusiastic standing ovation, the SLSQ returned to the stage to perform a poignant encore, the second movement from Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76, No.3 the “Emperor” which brought the evening full circle.

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based freelance musician, composer, educator, and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.

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