Word has been spreading for 33 years: The Chamber Music Series, according to General Director of Spoleto USA Nigel Redden and just about everyone else who has ever attended a performance, "is the heart and soul of the Festival."

No wonder, then, that the Dock Street Theatre was overflowing with a celebratory holiday crowd Monday afternoon for Chamber III.

This performance of David Bruce's Clarinet Quintet, "Gumboots," was a world premiere of sorts, as Bruce revised extensively his original work commissioned by the St. Lawrence Quartet.

Bruce based this piece on dances originated during apartheid in South Africa. The slaves in the mines, tromping around in water and in chains, were issued gumboots, or Wellingtons, and their movements slowly evolved. Bruce's first section is quietly ruminative, with Todd Palmer's bass clarinet straining for unusually high notes over the St. Lawrence, punctuated by Lesley Robertson's wistful viola, the haunting notes of Geoff Nuttall's and Scott St. John's violins, and Chris Costanza's weeping cello.

The next sections are full of life and exuberance, especially for Palmer now using the E-flat clarinet.

Given the historic visual image, the music makes even more sense, and is more melodic than many modern compositions. The audience sprang from their seats to offer a standing ovation mid-concert.

Nuttall and his wife, Livia Sohn, traversed with tuneful excellence the charming "Gulliver's Suite for Two Violins" by Georg Philipp Telemann. Nuttall acting the galumphing Yahoo in this short work that follows the Jonathan Swift story. A visual aid was handed out as the Dock filled: a double-sided page of the score showing tiny notes for the Lilliputian chaconne, contrasting with giant (whole) notes.

Hungarian composer Erno Dohnanyi's sprawling, 1895 heart-on-the-sleeve Romantic work written at age 18, the "Piano Quintet in C minor," Opus 1, defines the genre. The always-disciplined resident quartet added multi-talented pianist Steve Prutsman for this sumptuous end to a soul-satisfying concert, repeated at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. today.