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Thursday, May 17, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Concert Review

Top players bond quickly with exciting performance

Seattle Times music critic

Review


Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, Wednesday night

Repeat performances


The American String Project, 7: 30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $10-$35 (206-292-ARTS or www.theamericanstringproject.org).

It has taken six years, but the American String Project finally got a good-sized, enthusiastic house for the opening concert of its three-program season in the Nordstrom Recital Hall.

Founding directors Barry Lieberman and Maria Larionoff must have felt a sense of satisfaction to look out from the stage into a sea of approving faces.

It also was clear that the audience shared that satisfaction, hearing a well-polished and expertly played performance of three string quartets in an expanded version for string orchestra. Lieberman, who plays the double bass, has arranged quartet literature for the larger ensemble (including his own instrument). Then he invites top string players from several areas to Seattle for three days of concerts, essentially reforming a conductorless string orchestra each year.

And it really is a string orchestra, not just an assortment of 15 talented players. This group, whose membership varies a little from year to year, has such members this season as violinists Ani Kavafian and Stephanie Chase in a roster of experienced players who understand the back-and-forth, give-and-take of chamber music. They listen to each other and respond to what they hear; they play with tremendous intensity and focus. The results are exciting.

At Wednesday's opening concert, they played Lieberman's arrangements of a Giovanni Bottesini rarity, the "Quartetto in Re" (in what is presumed to be the first U.S. performance); Edvard Grieg's String Quartet No. 1 (in a timely performance on the eve of the Norwegian holiday Syttende Mai); and Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet (No. 14).

Some of the program's nicest moments came in the contrasts between the full ensemble and passages in which only four musicians were playing the original string quartet lines.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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