The Fine Arts Quartet brought a potentially solid if mostly routine program along for its Bing Concert, Wednesday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pale clone of the dazzling offering from the Lindsay Quartet just three days earlier at UCLA.
Like the Lindsay, the Fine Arts began with Haydn, and then turned to a substantial but not avant-garde masterpiece-in-waiting from the 20th Century. Both closed with the familiar drama of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet.
Never in short supply, "Death and the Maiden" is threatening to become the theme song for this chamber music season. The Fine Arts way with it proved conventional in exposition, individual in voice.
One of the most distinctive elements of the performance, first violinist Ralph Evans' nagging portamento, quickly wore out its welcome, however. It blossomed into interpretive affectation in the Andante and smeared many passages of the finale.
Evans' colleagues, violinist Efim Boico, violist Jerry Horner and cellist Wolfgang Laufer, provided a cohesive ensemble of middling sound and fervent spirit.
From Haydn, the Fine Arts chose the omnipresent "Lark" Quartet, Opus 64, No. 5. They seemed to view it as some sort of proto-Schubert, with a one-style-fits-all approach exaggerated in vibrato and sentiment.
Shostakovich's Quartet in F minor, Opus 122, is elusive as an entity, despite the obviousness of its components. The Fine Arts began well, alert to nobility as well as bitterness, though relying on the overplaying that has become the paradigm for Shostakovian intensity.
But the central portions never quite reached the level of harrowing urgency that would make the final dissolution poignant beyond mere enervation.