Hot Harpistry and a Piccolo Plum

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From music critic Lindsay Koob:

Wow – Catrin Finch and her harp on the menu at Dock Street, two days running? How lucky can a guy get? She and violinist Chee Yun opened the program with a real rarity, Camille Saint-Saens’ surreally gorgeous Fantasy for Violin and Harp (gotta find a recording of that one). Chee Yun’s soulful violin sighed, sang, and scampered, on top of Finch’s fabulous harpistry. Her strong yet subtle playing made her a full partner in this music, not just an accompanist.

Then we got our sweet daily dose of Mozart: another of his great string quintets – the sunny one in D Major, K. 593. It’s the polar opposite of the tragedy-ridden one in G minor that some of you heard in program I. The St. Lawrence quartet, joined by violist Masumi Per Rostad, delivered it with their usual gusto and musicianship, bringing the piece’s boundless good spirits to vibrant life.

I might add that Daniel Phillips, their stand-in second violin (Geoff Nuttall, their usual violin II, is home in Canada attending to new fatherhood – see Chamber of Secrets here) fit into his finger of the glove very nicely – and I hardly noticed the difference. But then – knowing Phillips – I didn’t expect to.

But Finch came back to steal the show, with a spectacular showpiece for solo harp by Félix Godefroid (never heard of him) – his Carnival of Venice, one of umpty-ump popular theme-and-variation settings of a banal tune that Paganini first made famous. She tossed it off like child’s play – and you could almost hear the crowd’s mental oohs and aahs.

She knows how to work a crowd, too. This amazing young lady will forever dispel your image of the harp as merely a sweet and tinkly parlor instrument … or of harpists as prim shrinking violets. She got the morning’s biggest ovation.

That evening at six, I was very happy to catch the second program in Piccolo’s Spotlight Concerts Series: three real gems for string quartet at Ashley Hall’s Recital Hall. (Click here for Patrick’s observations on the first concert). Acoustically, it’s one of the very best chamber venues in town – especially for strings. The performers are all leading talents from the strings section of the Charleston Symphony. Megan and James Holland are respectively principal violin II and cello, respectively. Alex Agrest served on viola, with Robyn Julyan and Ben Tomkins divvying up violin duties with Megan.

First, they gave us an almost totally unknown fragment from Sergei Rachmaninoff – the two “inner” movements of a (presumably early) quartet that he never finished. The ‘Romance’ movement dripped dark Russian pathos, but its melancholy spell was soon broken by a jaunty scherzo.

Then came the classical purity of Josef Haydn’s “Fifths” quartet, from his famous Op. 76 set. The players brought this witty and amiable piece off with grace and clarity. The program ended with Johannes Brahms’ C Minor Quartet from Op. 51 – a work that covers all the composer’s hallmark moods, from warm reflection to scathing agitation.

I won’t go so far as to say that these fine musicians are ready to displace the St. Lawrence Quartet at Dock Street – but I know mighty fine chamber music when I hear it. You’ll rarely regret falling back on Piccolo.

- LK

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