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MUSIC REVIEW : Cleveland's Quartet Is Irresistible

January 14, 1992|KENNETH HERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA JOLLA — When the Cleveland Quartet performs, it is difficult to dismiss the question, "Does it get any better?"

In Cleveland's Sunday night concert at UC San Diego's Mandeville Auditorium, the group's refinement, precision and unfailing lyricism proved an irresistible combination of virtues.

Their elegant, program-opening Haydn D Major Quartet, Op. 76, No. 5, could not have been more stylish. Though the set of Stradivarius instruments on which Cleveland plays contributed to the quartet's mellow, exquisitely focused sonority, the players' discerning approach made this late Haydn opus sing. They balanced the work's exuberance with a lucid texture that few ensembles are able to muster.

Much of Cleveland's enviable ensemble results from strong leadership at both ends of the spectrum.

Cellist Paul Katz, one of Cleveland's founding members, propels the group from below with authority and a consistently focused timbre. Violinist William Preucil, the newest musician, brings brilliance and vitality to the top; he turns the densest onslaught of figuration into a shapely phrase without dropping a 30-second note.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 15, 1992 San Diego County Edition Calendar Part F Page 4 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Quartet's hometown--A headline in Tuesday's edition mistakenly relocated the Cleveland Quartet. The group is based in Rochester, N.Y. In the article itself, a reference to violinist William Preucil should have read: He turns the densest onslaught of figuration into a shapely phrase without dropping a 1/32 note.

Violinist Peter Salaff and violist James Dunham complete the group, which is the Eastman School of Music's resident string quartet.

Cleveland made an excellent case for Prokofiev's infrequently performed B Minor String Quartet, Op. 50, No. 1. Like Prokofiev's G Minor Piano Concerto and his early opera "The Gambler," much of the B Minor String Quartet hurtles forward on the nervous energy of jaunty, motoric iterations. But, in the quartet's long final movement, the composer settles into his wingback chair and weaves a probing philosophical argument. If the players attacked the busy neoclassical rhetoric of the opening movement with abandon, they explored the finale's grave introspection with compelling conviction.

In the wake of the Prokofiev, Dvorak's A-flat Major Quartet, Op. 105, seemed disappointingly lightweight, an observation that was confirmed by Cleveland's brilliant encore, the Schubert "Quartettsatz." Nevertheless, the ensemble lavished every possible care on Dvorak's optimistic opus, which he composed as a tribute to his native Bohemia after a frustrating three-year stay in the United States.

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