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MUSIC REVIEWS : Audubon Offers Substantial, Lively Show

April 16, 1993|JOHN HENKEN

The Music Guild closed its 48th season in fine fashion, Wednesday at its Wilshire Ebell Theater home. The Audubon String Quartet, with the pertinent assistance of clarinetist Stephen Piazza, offered a substantial, tripartite take on classicism.

The real thing, high Mozart, came after intermission. Local stalwart Piazza joined violinists David Ehrlich, David Salness, violist Doris Lederer and cellist Thomas Shaw in a fresh and focused account of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581.

At the end of a long evening, there was scattered imprecision--intonation in the minor key variation and unsynchronized scamperings in its bustling successor--in the finale variations. Otherwise the performance proved a model of fluent musical conversation, intelligent, equable and characterful.

It was also informed--not dictated to--by an opportunistic sense of period style. The musicians took what served their expressive purposes in the way of pointed accent and articulation, sculptured and complementary phrasing, and complete sonic honesty.

The Audubons began with the "American Dreams" Quartet that Peter Schickele composed for them--can it really be as long ago as 1983? An audience-pleasing paragon of the sort of American classicism defined for most listeners by Copland, Schickele's Quartet No. 1 is firmly rooted in vernacular traditions, but with sophisticated twists, notably in the jazzy Four Studies and the contradictory Bartokian naivete of "Music at Dawn."

The ensemble applied tight, furious virtuosity to the Four Studies, and affecting simplicity elsewhere, allowing the solo lines free rein in the sparse textures.

Between Schickele and Mozart came the First Quartet, in C minor, of that classically haunted late Romantic, Johannes Brahms. Here the playing maintained its rhythmic acuity, bolstered by extrovert drama. Balances slipped askew in some rough-edged moments, however, and intonation suffered, particularly at the beginning of the finale.

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