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MUSIC REVIEW : A Serendipitous Laguna Chamber Concert

November 11, 1987|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

Serendipity is the unexpected benefit from an unfortunate circumstance. Like losing one member of a string quartet to indisposition but gaining in the process an unhackneyed and ear-opening program.

It happened Monday night, at the second event of the season by the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society. Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the Guarneri Quartet, is recuperating from elbow surgery and has sent his three colleagues on tour with pianist Steven DeGroote.

When the four players reached Laguna Beach High School Auditorium, DeGroote was given a weak, unbrilliant and dull piano to play. But that didn't ruin the concert.

The 34-year-old, prize-winning pianist from Johannesburg still produced handsome and charming sounds in Gabriel Faure's usually irresistible C-minor Piano Quartet. And his fellows--violinist John Dalley, violist Michael Tree and cellist David Soyer--made up in musical thrust, arching lines, emotional point and dynamic expansiveness what the unresonant piano lacked in presence and what the capable DeGroote seemed to lack in personality.

But the real bonus in this unscheduled agenda turned out to be its centerpiece, Beethoven's oft-neglected Serenade, Opus 8, given a bumptious, stylish, thoroughly engrossing performance by Dalley, Tree and Soyer.

After the depths and experiments in Opus 7 (the practically monumental Piano Sonata in E-flat), Opus 8 is Beethoven's return to earth and the pleasures of company. It is a characterful, sometimes vulgar, sometimes witty excursion by the young composer; in its way, it promises as much to the titan's development as its predecessor.

What made this evening more protracted than necessary--aside from a three-minute delay caused by a broken E-string on Dalley's violin, immediately after intermission--was its opener, Mozart's E-flat Piano Quartet, K. 493. This became the occasion for slowish tempos, bland rhetoric, uncommitted passage-work and justified listener-fidgeting.

The other irritant was purely visual: cluttered and colorless floral arrangements at either side of the small stage, arrangements that actually contained no flowers at all. Ugly.

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