But if all this choreography is really what it takes, it's a worthy distraction. The St. Lawrence is a spirited ensemble of slightly different approaches. Violist Lesley Robertson is rock-solid, violinists Geoff Nuttall and Scott St. John are big personalities, and cellist Christopher Costanza is a facile negotiator between the two styles. Beethoven's String Quartet in C major (Opus 59, No. 3) wasn't always immaculate (though the fast fugal last movement was rendered with magnificent clarity). But a lot of risk-taking paid off in a phrase given unusual emphasis, or dynamics etched with a particularly fine stylus. Haydn's String Quartet in D minor (Op. 76, No. 2, "Quinten") came on full-throttle, blurring the line at which Haydn ends and Beethoven begins. The way the group switched vibrato off and on to emotional ends was fascinating.
In a nod to their string-quartet ancestors, the St. Lawrence played Voyage (2012) by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, a wondrously concentrated piece commissioned for the centennials of the founding members of the Galimir String Quartet, formed by Felix Galimir in 1927 on the centennial of Beethoven's death. Without any literal quotes that I could detect, Zwilich managed to invoke aspects of the Galimirs' personal and professional journeys, pulling in French and Jewish associations. The piece highlighted an intense sweetness that was, for all but especially for St. John, a most appealing trait.
Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.