Abrasive, dramatic and emotionally resonant, recent works by Henri Lazarof are chamber music for the 1990s: deeply connected to the traditions of Brahms and Ravel (and others), but articulate of contemporary musical sensibilities. Like other composers of importance, Lazarof resists easy descriptions. And his music speaks with an urgency that transcends labels.
Four of these works--the 57-year-old Los Angeles composer seems to be in a particularly fecund stage as this decade comes to a close--made up the stimulating program that nine players from Chamber Music/LA gave at UCLA on Thursday night. This performance was the second stop of a four-concert U.S. tour; it began in San Francisco on Wednesday, reaches Boston today and New York the next day.
The event in Schoenberg Hall Auditorium in Westwood was, of course, a home stop for the longtime (since 1962) UCLA professor, now emeritus. Naturally, an approving crowd of Lazarof's colleagues and friends attended. They could not have been disappointed, neither in the quality of the works nor in well-wrought, brilliant performances.
A repeat performance of the Octet for strings (1987), subtitled "La Laurenziana"--introduced at Japan America Theatre in January, 1988--provided the appropriate conclusion to the evening.
As played by violinists Nina Bodnar, Gilles Apap, Yoko Matsuda and Peter Marsh, violists Milton Thomas and Paul Silverthorne and cellists Jeffrey Solow and David Speltz--and conducted by the composer--"La Laurenziana" proved as stunning, imposing and poignant a sound experience as had been reported at its premiere performance.
But the revelation Thursday was in the pre-intermission climax, the Piano Trio (1988), performed by Matsuda and Solow, with pianist Jerome Lowenthal.
The work is vibrant proof of the continuing viability of the piano-trio genre. A virtuosic piece making great demands on all three players, the four-movement trio explores deeply the many possibilties of color, juxtaposition, sonority and texture, all within a tight dramatic framework.
Like many of Lazarof's compositions, it invokes humor and irony as well as urgency, and keeps an emotional distance even while delivering its emotional punches. The colorful and faceted performance seemed a model of perspicacity, Lowenthal in particular fulfilling his part with a full range of pianistic resources.
In the first Southern California performance of "Momenti" for solo cello (1988), Solow was the easygoing hero. This five-movement, 13-minute work demands much, technically and architectonically, from its protagonist. A second hearing--this piece gives away no secrets upon first encounter--is now in order.
At the beginning of the evening, Lazarof conducted a splendid reading of the Serenade for string sextet (1985), a sunny but disturbing work that may be described as Brahms with neuroses. Perhaps it is a sign of our times that some listeners in 1989 may get more out of this piece than out of the models upon which it is probably based. Or perhaps that is the way these things are supposed to be. In any case, the performance seemed splendidly realized.