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HISTORIC SITES SERIES : CARTER PREMIERE IN A HILLTOP SETTING : Carter's Quartet grates, shrieks, rants and harasses the listener; it sometimes sounds like four simultaneous musical monologues by soloists unaware of, or actually hostile to, each other.

January 06, 1987|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

A contemporary private residence--built in 1957--with spectacular views of city (downtown Los Angeles) and reservoir (Silver Lake) as the setting for the West Coast premiere of Elliott Carter's Fourth String Quartet? Perfect.

And so it nearly was, Sunday afternoon, at the top of a hill in Silver Lake, in a glass-and-brick showcase called Silvertop, that the Composers String Quartet brought the American composer's latest impenetrable musical edifice to Los Angeles.

What made the occasion--which was also the first event of 1987 on the much-loved Chamber Music in Historic Sites series--less than thrilling was the gloominess of the day, a rainy, cloudy, gray and melancholy afternoon which caused the view inside Silvertop House to be both dark and full of glare.

Acoustically, the ensemble--quartet in residence at Columbia University in New York City--sounded true, transparent and competent. Only the playing of the four instrumentalists sometimes approached a sobriety bordering on monotony. The quartet--violinists Matthew Raimondi and Anahid Ajemian, violist Jean Dane and cellist Mark Shuman--seemed to bring expertise and familiarity to Carter's newly tortured sounds, without producing a reading to make those sounds immediately apprehendable.

Because the 78-year old composer has often made structures which later--through familiarity and close scrutiny--turned out to be admirable, each of his new works has to be greeted with seriousness and respect, if not instant affection.

This one, first played in Miami in September and in New York last month, is particularly hard to love. It grates, shrieks, rants and harasses the listener; it sometimes sounds like four simultaneous musical monologues by soloists unaware of, or actually hostile to, each other. It is noisy, often ugly, dissonant and, at first hearing, chaotic.

Nevertheless, it was received at Silvertop in a spirit of good sportsmanship by a chic, patient audience of 250 persons crowded into the doubled-viewed music room, a trapezoidal chamber aspiring to be a crescent, it would seem.

The remainder of the program proved undistinguished. It began with sobersided, not fully characterized readings of Mozart's Quartet in D, K. 575, and Beethoven's E-minor "Rasumovsky" Quartet, Opus 59, No. 2. Both were played with smaller contrasts, narrower dynamics and fewer humors than their scores demand.

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