St. Lawrence String Quartet The comely Russian folk tune that begins Shostakovich's Third String Quartet eventually turns sour, discordant and shapeless. Looking back in 1946 on World War II's unimaginable devastation, Shostakovich wrote a quartet that trembles with anxiety, then unleashes a hellishly agitated sonic nightmare that shrieks and weeps until a death rattle of high harmonics softens momentarily and shudders into silence.

When the St. Lawrence String Quartet finished its shatteringly vivid performance of this work at the Corcoran Gallery Friday night -- a performance that not only captured the music's grotesque theatrics but penetrated the heart of its emotional imagery -- a shocked audience refused to break the agonized stillness with applause. That long moment honored the almost unbearable physicality of a transcendent experience, and the applause that did finally ensue seemed intrusive, almost inappropriate.

The players (Geoff Nuttall and Barry Shiffman, violins; Lesley Robertson, viola; Alberto Parrini, cello) have an immaculately honed technique. Although their command of color, shading, intonation and dynamics is notably superb, these are fearless musicians whose spontaneity stretches past conventional interpretation and probes the music's imaginative limits.

The yearning chromatic harmonies and miraculous counterpoint of Mozart's String Quartet, K. 428, were classically etched and splendidly aristocratic, and so personally evocative that the work's compelling urgency continues to linger in the mind. A jolting, large-scale performance of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 ended a concert that simply could not have been better.

-- Ronald Broun

Les Claypool Any artist who begins a show with a Jethro Tull cover is begging for a critical steamrolling, but when Les Claypool and his Frog Brigade kicked into "Locomotive Breath" at the State Theatre Saturday night, it wasn't a case of wildly poor taste so much as an indication of the freakiness to come. Indeed, the freaks were out in force at the sold-out gig, which is just the way Claypool -- best known as bassist and leader of Primus -- likes it. He took the outfit through two hours of barely controlled prog-rock forced through a psychedelic blender.

With his wild rubber bass notes, Claypool -- decked out in bowler and mask a{grv} la "A Clockwork Orange" -- charged ahead of drummer Fish, saxophonist Skerik (in a shimmering golden pharaoh-pope getup), Mike Dillon on vibes and marimba and guitarist Eenor as they writhed through tunes from Claypool's latest recording, "Purple Onion." Alongside songs like "Ding Dang," "Buzzards of Green Hill" and the jumpy greasy-spoon ode "D's Diner," the Frog Brigade wigged out on an epic dismantling (nearly 35 minutes long) of the Rolling Stones' "2000 Light Years From Home" and a trip through Primus's "Groundhog's Day."

Along the way, Claypool threw in some electric banjo and his trademark post-Zappa lyrics, and proved to be a wonderfully entertaining host. That he confirmed his position as one of the few mainstream musicians to consistently succeed with such a strict diet of weird was a bonus perhaps noted only by critical types. Everybody else was too busy drinking up the freaky fun.

-- Patrick Foster

Thomas Mapfumo Thomas Mapfumo is one mellow revolutionary. During a two-hour-plus show at the Barns at Wolf Trap Saturday night, the 57-year-old singer, musician and songwriter's placid expression and genial demeanor offered no hint that he is the author of some of Africa's most politically charged music.

But Mapfumo's chimurenga music -- or "music of struggle" -- was part of the soundtrack to the revolution that brought black rule to Rhodesia and brought about its rechristening 22 years ago as Zimbabwe. Mapfumo once championed the changes that the new government, led by Robert Mugabe, brought with it. But these days the struggle continues, and Mapfumo is back in a familiar role as social observer and critic. The Mugabe regime, with its reputed corruption and civil rights violations, has not escaped his darts. Now living in Oregon, Mapfumo has even had several of his songs banned in his homeland.

The show at the Barns may have been thousands of miles from Zimbabwe, but that didn't still the songs of warning and suffering. Performing with his eight-piece band, the Blacks Unlimited, Mapfumo sang softly over loping polyrhythms and the delicate muted tones of the mbira, a traditional thumb-piano instrument. It is music with springs built into it and virtually impossible not to dance to. The paradox of course, is that music so seemingly gentle and unassuming could contain such powerful messages.

Songs like "Big in America" challenged African youth to not look just to America for the next big thing. An old song, "Pfumvu Pa Ruzevha," catalogued rural hardships, while "Chirombo" warned about a dangerous person or animal.

"So always beware of Chirombo," Mapfumo told the crowd of nearly 300. It may have only been a song about an old fable, but it sounded more like a timely message.

-- Joe Heim

Boston Camerata

With tension between cultures at a snapping point today, Joel Cohen and his Boston Camerata provided an ancient lesson in cross-cultural tolerance Friday night at the Clarice Smith Center. They performed "Cantigas de Santa Maria," collected by Alfonso the Wise, a 13th-century Spanish king.

Alfonso brought Christians, Muslims and Jews to his court, surrounding himself with the best philosophers, scientists and artists. They collaborated on hundreds of songs centered on the Virgin Mary. Likewise, Cohen brought together musicians from various cultures. He gave the works a distinctly Moroccan flavor by hiring an ensemble from Fez to join his tour. But the U.S. State Department nixed visas for all but the head of the group, Mohammed Briouel. To compensate, Cohen found a fantastic group of replacement musicians of Arabic descent.

With two vielles (ancient fiddles), oud (lute), dumbek (hand drum) tambourine and four female vocalists, Cohen and company made the songs come alive. The jaunty Cantiga 119 told the tale of a corrupt judge, who repented after being thrown in a well. The four women traded off sinuous verses, lightly dancing and acting out some of the story line. Soprano Anne Azema retreated to the balcony to sing a haunting prayer for protection. Her porcelain tone filled the hall, her final phrase dissolving cleanly in the air. Soprano Hayet Ayad drew upon her Algerian roots in Cantiga 230. Florid ornaments and melismatic phrases gave deep feeling to a simple text of praise.

Cohen himself contributed a song in Hebrew. And following some of the Cantigas, the band dovetailed into traditional Moroccan instrumentals.

It all made for an evening of attractive music with more than just a multicultural message.

-- Tom Huizenga

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio celebrated its 25th anniversary year on Saturday with the premiere of David Del Tredici's "Grand Trio" at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The three artists -- Joseph Kalichstein on piano, Jaime Laredo on violin, Sharon Robinson on cello -- played the 30-minute piece with a sense of joy and contentment that belied the enormous demands it makes on technique and ensemble.

In four movements that are played without pause, the piece, which was commissioned by the center for this anniversary, seems to be more about getting places than about actually arriving.

The opening is a huge and unfolding introduction that stretches on and on as the door slowly swings, as individual lines offer the beginnings of lush and inviting phrases and as expectations grow more intense. Where this actually leads, however, is not clear. Del Tredici investigates small pieces of thematic material that he handles with great imagination and delicacy (and at some length) within a texture that is unusually thick for the trio idiom, but then moves on to other such investigations. There are common thematic threads but not much sense of direction or of climax. The piece ends with a recapitulation and a shutting down that mirrors the beginning.

The material within this structure, both harmonically and lyrically, owes its inspiration to Schubert and Dvorak and their contemporaries. Del Tredici's techniques are not at all mired in the 19th century but, as he is the first to acknowledge, that is where his heart is.

The concert opened with a deliciously lighthearted and benevolent performance of the Beethoven Trio in E-flat, Op. 44, and closed with a luscious reading of Brahms's Trio in B, Op. 8.

-- Joan Reinthaler

The 20th Century Consort "NYC: Fire and Ice," the theme of the 20th Century Consort's program at the Hirshhorn Saturday, evoked the essence of New York, focusing on the brutal reality of 9/11. From the jamming opener, Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A Train," the elegance of the entire performance won over the audience.

After Strayhorn's captivating tribute to Harlem, Steve Reich's "NY Counterpoint" displayed clarinetist Paul Cigan's artistry in a discursive romp with three other clarinets he prerecorded on tape. The piece unfolded in oscillating densities, textures, micro-motifs and dynamics, re-creating the comforting sameness of Manhattan's sonic ambiance. NSO associate concertmaster Elisabeth Adkins, with pianist Audrey Andrist, conveyed the inflammatory energy of Evan Chambers's "Fire Hose Reel," linking a sense of the uncontrollable with Irish fiddling's incendiary urgency. Jon Deak's "Mose the Fireman" paid dramatic tribute to the firemen lost on 9/11. After Donald Sur's witty, Kurt Weill-ish essay, "A Neo-Platonic Epistrophe While Crossing Times Square," Artistic Director Christopher Kendall led a gleaming performance of Charles Wuorinen's "NY Notes," its emotional beauty belying the intellectual structure influenced by early Renaissance concepts of time-values.

-- Cecelia Porter

The St. Lawrence String Quartet performed with precision and passion.Christopher Kendall, artistic director of the 20th Century Consort, which performed Saturday on the theme of "NYC: Fire and Ice."Violinist Jaime Laredo, cellist Sharon Robinson and pianist Joseph Kalichstein performed at the Smith Center.