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MUSIC REVIEW : Quartet Gives Instructive Concert

April 21, 1993|LAURENCE VITTES

Sunday night, the Tokyo String Quartet became the first quartet to play at the new Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. In the appropriately intimate if self-consciously dollhouse surroundings, violinists Peter Oundjian and Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Sadao Harada not only played Haydn, Bartok and Beethoven with extraordinarily easy skill, they charmed the modest-sized audience with concern for its musical education.

When it became apparent, after the first two movements of Haydn's "Sunrise" Quartet, Opus 76, No. 4, that applause would follow every break in the action, Oundjian made a gracious plea to cease and desist until each entire piece was concluded.

When it became apparent, after the last two movements of the Haydn, that the audience could not be expected to know when each entire piece was concluded because the program book omitted program notes, Oundjian gave impromptu notes of his own for both Bartok's Quartet No. 3 and, after intermission, Beethoven's Quartet Opus 131. Oundjian, in fact, was so articulate and illuminating for beginners and veterans alike that it is remarkable that such live program notes have not become standard operating procedure.

Although the playing itself was no less expert or ingratiating, it occasionally suffered from being too note perfect and seamless, as if the Quartet was--perhaps justifiably--concerned that even the slightest interruption in the musical proceedings might evoke applause at an inconvenient moment. This was not so evident in the first movement of the Haydn, its ascending "sunrise" phrases played with knife-edged anticipation, and it helped in the rough and tumble Bartok.

In the great reaches of the Beethoven, however, the Quartet's avoidance of edges gradually gave the impression that they preferred the not inconsiderable physical beauties of the music to its vast spiritual depths.

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