Haydn: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No 2
Vinao: String Quartet No 3 ("Sirocco Dust")
Adams: String Quartet
When so many venues whole-heartedly plunge into the holiday spirit, the Library of Congress remains steadfastly committed to inviting la crème de la crème of chamber music ensembles throughout the world. Accordingly, yesterday evening it was the Saint Lawrence Quartet who got to entertain us all the way from Canada. After a delightful recital by Angela Hewitt the night before, it looks like our neighbors from the North have taken over Washington in force lately, even if these days the Saint Lawrence Quartet are technically US residents through their "ensemble in residence" status at Stanford University. With sure-value Haydn, a world première by Ezequiel Vinao and a Washington première by John Adams, emphasizing the musicians' commitment to performing contemporary composers, the program was decidedly as eclectic as intriguing.
Starting with vivacious outbursts interspersed by unexpected silent pauses, Haydn's string quartet was the German master at its best, concluding the lively piece on a particularly soft, whispering note.
After that healthy dose of classical fare, the one-movement "Sirocco Dust" felt like a runaway train rhythmically blazing through an ever-changing landscape. Keeping the four tightly synchronized musicians fully engaged the whole time - about 20 minutes - the relentless score took us all on a Middle-Eastern music-infused, recurrence-based hypnotic journey that left everybody on and off the stage breathless, flushed and utterly exhilarated.
After that exotic interlude, it was John Adams' turn with a rich, multi-faceted quartet composed of two movements, the last one of which stood out as much for its compact vigorousness as for the cellist breaking a cord during the last few minutes. After everyone good-naturedly waited for the instrument to become whole again, we got even more music than we bargained for as the fired-up ensemble started the last movement all over again.
And that was not all. In response to our thunderous ovation, the Saint Lawrence Quartet treated us to the final movement of Haydn's Op. 20, No 4, thus bringing the whole concert full circle, back to "the father of the string quartet".