When discussing performances by a string quartet, the reviewer usually mentions, or least considers, the length of time the group has been together. It takes time, lots of it, to create the requisite blend of tone and interpretive consistency.
At Sunday's Music for Mischa concert in Schoenberg Hall on the UCLA campus, the listener could revel in the less predictable rewards offered by more or less ad-hoc ensembles of first-rate musicians.
A string quartet made up of violinists Joseph Genualdi and Miwako Watanabe, violist Michael Nowak and cellist Robert Martin probed the dark corners of Mozart's Quartet in D minor, K. 421, with thrilling intensity and rhythmic thrust.
Propelled by the mercurial Genualdi, it emerged an exceptionally fast and dramatic performance. At times too precipitous--there was, in effect, no slow movement--and not ideally balanced, the interpretation nonetheless was convincing on its own, freshly invented terms.
The remainder of the program was devoted to Schubert's Octet, which can be interminable in less appreciative and skilled hands than those present Sunday. Here it glowed with freshness and charm.
Joining the Mozart performers were clarinetist Michele Zukovsky, bassoonist Michael O'Donovan, hornist Richard Todd and bassist Edward Meares. It was a dream ensemble, both in the prospect and in the realization. Here too the element of danger that seems to be present whenever the excitable Genualdi is in a position of command added spice to what can be too much of a sweet thing.