Music@Menlo Festival – Pacifica Quartet and St Lawrence String Quartet

String Quartet in B flat, Op.18/6
String Quintet No.1 in A, Op.18
Octet in E flat, Op.20

Pacifica Quartet [Simin Ganatra & Sibbi Bernhardsson (violins), Masumi Per Rostad (viola) & Brandon Vamos (cello)]

Members of St Lawrence String Quartet [Geoff Nuttall & Scott St John (violins) and Lesley Robertson (viola)]

David Finckel (cello)

Reviewed by: Gail Wein

Reviewed: 24 July, 2009
Venue: Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, California

There is a significant difference between the audience at the Music@Menlo Festival and an audience in, say, New York City. The Menlo audience is very quiet, for one. No hacking coughs, crinkling candy wrappers or jangling jewelry. Not even a mobile phone ringing. And, at the conclusion of the performance, there was unabashed cheering.

Pacifica QuartetThe rapt attention and exuberant reaction may be due to the many ‘groupies’ present; there seems to be a critical mass of those who try not to miss a single note in the seven years that the festival has been in existence. Upon hearing this particular concert Friday evening with the Pacifica Quartet and St. Lawrence String Quartet, it is easy to understand their point of view.

The Pacifica Quartet’s rendition of Beethoven’s early VB flat String Quartet was as dramatic as the stained-glass window behind the musicians at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. At the same time, the players’ attention to nuance was remarkable, making the second movement so delicate and fragile it was breathtaking. The third movement was especially playful, contrasts made the most of. The somber chorale that opens the finale gave way to a buoyant Allegretto.

St. Lawrence String Quartet. Photograph: Anthony ParmeleeThe St Lawrence Quartet came to the concert without cellist Christopher Costanza who was called away because of a family bereavement. For Mendelssohn’s String Quintet, Pacifica’s cellist Brandon Vamos did a marvelous job as an eleventh-hour substitute, and violist Masumi Per Rostad completed the quintet as planned. The five played passionately and emphatically. In the second movement, first violinist Scott St John dominated, producing a mini-concerto. The jaunty third movement was as refreshing as country fiddling.

The Pacifica and St Lawrence members joined forces for Mendelssohn’s Octet with David Finckel as guest cellist. The stupendously energetic opening then flagged in momentum. Nevertheless, the group’s chords were as smooth as velvet and ensemble tight despite the last-minute personnel change. The theme in the scherzo rippled through each instrument like fans doing the wave at a baseball stadium, and the musicians concluded the final Presto with joyous intensity.

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