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MUSIC REVIEW : Chamber Music Society in Radiant Outing

March 25, 1994|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

IRVINE — Great music-making always balances passion and precision, instinct and intellect. In the chamber-music arena, only a few ensembles maintain such balances consistently.

The spring, 1994, tour group from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center--seven major players, without a pianist or a singer--is a member of that elite.

Returning after a three-year hiatus, it returned to the Irvine Barclay Theatre Wednesday night, was scheduled at Pepperdine University in Malibu Thursday, and plays tonight on the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor, under auspices of the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary's College. Given the many musical joys delivered at Irvine, a trip to Long Beach would be a wise investment, and no risk at all.

All by itself, the playing of clarinetist David Shifrin could justify that trip. Now the group's artistic director, Shifrin still makes music as compellingly as he ever did. His unself-conscious but utterly authoritative way with Mozart's A-major Quintet, K. 581, in association with violinists Ani Kavafian and Carmit Zori, violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Fred Sherry, proved revelatory to both mind and heart: Its thoughts moved in an irresistible sweep at the same time that its sounds held the listener in thrall.

The rest of the four-part performance approached that level. At the conclusion, all the players came together for a radiant and faceted reading of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro. At the beginning, violinist Zori and harpist Nancy Allen revived a cherishable, virtually unknown "Fantaisie" by Camille Saint-Saens with great affection and effortless virtuosity.

*

At program's center, flutist Ransom Wilson, with Neubauer and Allen, made beauteous sense out of a work that often goes unclarified--Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola and harp--tying together what we have sometimes perceived as loose ends, creating an emotional scenario.

This, then, turned out to be more than a handsome performance; it became an essay in textures and a probing of nonverbal meanings. Chamber-music performances always aim in this direction. Sometimes they achieve the goal.

* Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, in its final Southern California concert of the season, tonight at 8 in the Queen's Salon aboard HMS Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor, sponsored by Chamber Music in Historic Sites. (310) 440-1351. $25.

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