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Birth and Transfiguration

New York
Weill Recital Hall
05/09/2003 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quintet K 516
Osvaldo Golijov: Yiddishbbuk
Arnold Schoenberg: Transfigured Night

St. Lawrence String Quartet
Geoff Nuttall and Barry Shiffman (violins)
Lesley Robertson (viola)
Alberto Parrini (cello)
with Phillip Ying (viola) and David Ying (cello)

One of the most moving aspects of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht is its remarkable ability to recreate the atmosphere of the original Richard Dehmel poem, a startling juxtaposition of the frigid attitudes of polite society and the warm glow of inner beauty. The woman, carrying a child conceived with another, informs the man that they can never find fulfillment because of her past indiscretion and his response is just the reverse: that the life within her will be exactly that fulfillment and the three will become a family. The poem is edgy and daring, perfect for the rebellious 1890’s, and Schoenberg’s marvelous sound images match it flawlessly. In virtually all performances of the string sextet, this fact is only one for the cognoscenti, but last evening at Weill Recital Hall, the St. Lawrence String Quartet and two members of the Ying Quartet began their presentation brilliantly, by yielding the stage to actor Geoffrey Pomeroy, who treated us all to a passionate reading of the piece, demonstrating by example what is so bloody transfigured about the night anyway. Mr. Pomeroy was especially adept at vocally characterizing the hesitant lovers, not in tawdry imitation, but rather with genuine empathy.

The disappointingly small crowd thus adequately prepared, the group launched into their own maelstrom of passion. Overall, the ensemble blend was a pale one, but individual voices were expressive of deep commitment and a sense of mission. This was definitely a young person’s interpretation, perhaps just a tad exaggerated, but always in touch with the finest aesthetic principles of truth and beauty. Inviting the Ying brothers to play with you can be a bit of a mixed blessing, as their own rich tones, providing a secure and luxurious bottom, lessened by contrast the efforts of the core group, who suffer from a bit of an anemic sound (it would be simply mean spirited to mention which one of the four was particularly deficient in timbral quality). Technical issues aside however, this was a stunning performance, coming closer to the heart of this electrifying work than almost any other more measured and mature rendition. The evening opened with a sprightly run at Mozart and an athletic and percussive traversal of some Kronos-like material by Argentinian Osvaldo Golijov.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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