The Spoleto Festival USA Chamber Music IV was a guaranteed winner with opulent music played with the usual panache by the gifted chamber musicians at the Dock Street Theatre Wednesday morning.
Geoff Nuttall, director for chamber music (and violinist with the St. Lawrence Quartet), dashed on stage and, with what has become his signature flamboyance, explained the origins of the Arnold Schoenberg arrangement of the "Kaiser (or Emperor) Waltz" by Johann Strauss I.
Performers included Tara Helen O'Connor, flute; Todd Palmer, clarinet; Pedja Muzijevic, piano; and the St. Lawrence Quartet. The senior Strauss' melodic invention kept the piece focused. The audience loved it.
Nuttall explained that the Beethoven "Grosse Fugue" is earth-shatteringly weird. Despite its early 19th century origins, it is as modern as Beethoven's use of arrhythmic and dissonant devices. The St. Lawrence played this strange, complex and difficult work with astonishing ease.
Russian Anton Arensky (1861-1906), one of the students of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, demonstrated a lesser creative light than others like Glazunov, Prokofiev and Respighi. Arensky never developed a unique musical style.
Arensky wrote his second string quartet as a memorial to Tchaikovsky and scored it unusually for two cellos, one violin and one viola. It is mournful and sombre, but rich in melody.
Daniel Phillips, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; and Christopher Costanza and Alisa Weilerstein on their cellos demonstrated a fine ensemble, with the composition's dark Russian character clearly drawn.
Chamber Music IV will be repeated this morning at 11 am. Don't miss it.