Mention the Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet of Brahms and you can bet the house someone will use that most overworked adjective autumnal. But while the cliche may convey the essence of this masterpiece, the Southwest Chamber Music Society proved that, interpretively, it is only the starting point.
Soloist Michael Grego and colleagues wove a singular brand of magic in the opening movement: a perfectly gauged tempo, an avoidance of easy sentimentality and a sense of urgency essential to balancing the inherently reflective nature of the score.
Yet despite consistently beautiful playing, the young ensemble collectively failed to take the full measure of the remaining three movements.
In the first half of the program Friday night at Wright Auditorium of the Pasadena Library, Grego teamed with violinist Peter Marsh and pianist Albert Dominguez in Bartok's "Contrasts." Here the performers gathered momentum and control as the work progressed: An opening movement that required more cohesion led to sustained intensity in the second, and culminated in a scintillating reading of the saucily spiky finale.
The same performers had treated the overflow house to a rarity for openers: Berg's own transcription of the Adagio from his Chamber Concerto.