ORANGE — Contemporary music proved to be the most persuasive part of the Southwest Chamber Music Society program of music by Elliott Carter, Oliver Knussen and good old Wolfgang Mozart on Thursday at Chapman University.
Violinist Robert Marsh and pianist Gloria Cheng brought authority and commitment to Carter's hefty, thorny Duo for those two instruments, composed in 1974.
Where other violinists have stressed abrasive brilliance in the score, Marsh utilized a pungent, dark-hued lyricism to convey a strong personal voice throughout the episodes of contrast, struggle, achievement and, finally, triumph.
Unable to attack so much as one sequence of the composer's fragmented phrases with anything less than an overarching legato (bouncing on his feet to do so), Marsh made a case for this as a modern kind of romanticism.
Cheng expertly provided the initially cool, supremely indifferent partnering voice, which slowly heated up into an adversarial role, repetitively insistent on its rights but eventually conceding defeat in broken, subdued fragments.
Similarly, Dorothy Stone played Carter's new (1991) six-minute solo for flute, \o7 "Scrivo in Vento"\f7 --which had been heard at the Green Umbrella concert at Japan America Theatre on Monday night--with secure commitment.
The title derives from a sonnet by Petrarch describing a dream in which the poet engages in paradoxical activities such as writing on the wind. Stone expertly played the composer's juxtapositions of music of contrasting character--songful snippets and shrill pipings--to achieve a reconciliation of sorts in the final quiet flutterings.
Knussen's layered textures and dramatic episodes in the Cantata for Oboe and String Trio received transparent treatment by oboist Stuart Horn, Marsh, violist Jan Karlin and cellist Roger Lebow.
All the more surprising, then, that stylish, sensitive performances of music by Mozart proved so elusive. The same musicians who played the Knussen piece so masterfully opened the program with a blocky account of the Oboe Quartet, K. 370.
To close it, pianist Albert Dominguez joined the three string players in a heavy, charmless reading of the tragic G-minor Piano Quartet, K. 478. Admittedly, the big, muddy sound of the modern grand often overwhelmed the strings, but that could not explain the absence of insightful phrasing and communication of eventful structure.
The program, sold out at Chapman, was scheduled to be repeated in Pasadena on Friday.