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MUSIC REVIEWS : Southwestern Toils in San Marino

August 15, 1994|HERBERT GLASS

It wasn't easy being a string quartet or, for that matter, being an audience, Saturday evening, one of the hottest of the year--even in the lovely, acoustically welcoming Loggia of the Huntington Library's main gallery. The hoped-for vivifying breezes never materialized.

Negotiating their instruments must have been rather like paddling with bows in a swamp for the Southwest String Quartet--violinists Peter Marsh and Annie Chalex, violist Jan Karlin, cellist Roger Lebow--core ensemble of the Southwest Chamber Music Society, which was concluding its imaginatively programmed summer series at the San Marino museum.

The agenda on Saturday listed Charles Ives' cranky, quirky, at times parodistic Second Quartet, preceded by what remains after two centuries the ultimate put-down of bad music, Mozart's "A Musical Joke," in which the quartet was joined by hornists Jeff von der Schmidt and James Atkinson, who contributed a few (perhaps unwitting) harmonic jokes of their own. The concert concluded with the bighearted lyric gestures of Dvorak's "American" Quartet.

It was not an evening for testing interpretive probing, ensemble polish or consistently secure intonation. One took pleasure, rather, in such individual gestures as Marsh's wonderfully theatrical deadpanning of the lost-soul cadenza of the Mozart slow movement and Chalex's commanding musical impersonation of Rollo, the purveyor of "mindless beauty," in Ives' still barely penetrable 1913 essay in ear-boggling.

And one could savor the solid rhythms and rich tones projected by cellist Lebow, anchorman in Dvorak's hyper-familiar quartet, whose arching lines Marsh chose to deliver in short, choppy phrases and rather more dynamic refinement than the circumstances warranted or could bear.

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