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St. Petersburg Quartet reaches new heights

Propped up by blocks of wood, the musicians still make Zurab Nadarejshvili's mountainous work soar.

December 05, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

With its evocation of echoes resonating from mountaintops, Georgian composer Zurab Nadarejshvili's String Quartet No. 2 is impossible to resist. The four-movement work, lasting approximately 25 minutes, was given its West Coast premiere by the St. Petersburg Quartet at the Geffen Playhouse on Monday as part of the Music Guild series.

The Petersburg ensemble -- a replacement for the originally scheduled Bennewitz String Quartet, which canceled its U.S. tour -- was perched on the slightly raked forestage of the set for the musical "Atlanta," currently running at the Geffen. The front legs of the foursome's chairs were propped up with blocks of wood to keep the players from tumbling forward, so understandably they might have been more cautious than usual.

Still, they launched into the Nadarejshvili work with dramatic attack and witty, slithering glissandi. Lively, percussive finger taps highlighted the complex rhythms of the second movement. The third, like Barber's Adagio for Strings, evolved in a slow, meditative arc but ventured into tangled byways before fully subsiding.

The knockout movement was the last. It was modeled, said first violinist Alla Aranovskaya in introductory remarks from the stage, on funeral chants sung in the mountain heights of Georgia. Over a two-note cello figure and eerie viola harmonics, a Georgian folk song was slowly refracted into glistening, overlapping aural fragments that defined an immense, arresting, breathtaking space.

The Petersburgers have long been associated with Nadarejshvili. They performed the premiere of his First Quartet in 1987. With the Second, which was composed for them and given its U.S. premiere in October at Lincoln Center in New York, they have played five premieres of his works. They have a feel for him, and he has a feel for them.

Not surprisingly, then, the piece showcased more than usual the individuals in the group -- in addition to Aranovskaya, violinist Alla Krolevich, violist Boris Vayner and cellist Leonid Shukayev. Typically, Aranovskaya was the leading voice, with the others providing an elegant, seamless cushion from which they only occasionally emerged with distinct contributions.

This approach gave their performance of Dvorak's "American" Quartet an engaged but tempered sweetness, minimizing the work's dramatic and expressive potential. Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 2, on the other hand, allowed them to explore more emotional extremes, from the dark shadows that intrude in the airy, ballroom scherzo, through the grief of the third-movement andante, to the contrasting, full-sail optimism of the finale. Here they were again in their element.

Their single encore was "Golliwog's Cakewalk" from Debussy's "Children's Corner Suite."


St. Petersburg String Quartet

Where: Plaza del Sol Performance Hall, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., at Zelzah Avenue, Northridge

When: 8 tonight

Price: $9 to $35

Contact: (323) 954-0404 or

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