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Review by Harriet McLeod
Photographs by William Struhs
In his third season as director of Spoleto's popular Chamber Music Series, stylish fiddler Geoff Nuttal continues to program with imagination. He also tickles audiences much the same way retired longtime director Charles Wadsworth did. Nuttall was by turns exuberant and explanatory in introducing Thursday's Program IV selections, which amounted to an emotional roller coaster ride.
First up was his own St. Lawrence String Quartet performing Mozart's String Quartet in D minor, K 421. “Minor was a big deal in the classic period,” Nuttall told the crowd. “Three out of four of these movements are from the depths of hell.” Till Eulenspiegel—Richard Strauss' cartoonish frolic for violin, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and double bass—broke that mood. Nuttall chose the haunting piano and cello section of Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. The Frenchman composed the quartet in 1940 while he was a prisoner of war and found among his fellow prisoners a clarinetist, a violinist, and a cellist. It was performed for the first time in 1941 in a German prison camp. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan played it with stunning technique and emotion.
Closing the program, Poulenc's whimsical romp, Sextet for Piano and Winds in C Major, Op. 100, was a treat. It moved from swelling movie music and loud, punctuated jazz blats to frolicking woodwind interplay. Flutist Tara Helen O'Connor joined the “Winds Dream Team,” as Nuttall called them, of James Austin Smith, oboe; Todd Palmer, clarinet; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; and Eric Ruske, French horn.
And speaking of the “Dream Team,” they also shone on Tuesday’s Program III, performing Beethoven's Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat, Op. 16. And Weilerstein and Barnatan delivered a tour de force on Igor Stravinsky's “Suite Italienne,” which he based on his ballet “Pulcinella” and stole the familiar melody from 18th-century Italians—stealing being a tradition of only the best composers, Nuttall said. Weilerstein was wonderful and powerful, with loose horsehair flying from the end of her bow and her own hair hanging into the cello.
Nuttall quoted Stravinsky: “Music must be listened to. It is not enough to hear it. A duck hears also.” The Chamber Music Series continues every day, twice a day, so you really have no excuse. These guys are classical rock stars.