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Music : A Bounty of Bartok at Getty

August 29, 1994|HERBERT GLASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The polished professionalism and imaginative programming encountered at the J. Paul Getty Museum on Saturday are hardly common summertime happenings in our area.

This was a concert--the summer's last at the Getty--to satisfy the cravings of the most demanding connoisseur of the not-always-approachable art of Bela Bartok, to whom the entire evening was devoted.

First came the manifold glories of the First String Quartet, played by an apparently ad hoc ensemble comprising violinists Roger Wilkie and Clayton Haslop, violist Michael Nowak and cellist Rowena Hamill.

A more probingly subtle, sonorous and cohesive exposition of its darting lyric suggestions and ever-shifting rhythms is difficult to recall, even from the celebrated, permanently constituted groups that have brought it to town in recent seasons.

The program's midsection offered a male vocal octet, under the scrupulous direction of Nick Strimple, in a selection of Bartok arrangements of Slovak folk songs and, even more engrossingly, the quirky modalities and offbeat rhythms of the Opus 50 set of Old Hungarian Folk Songs.

The Strimple singers presented this rarely encountered (anywhere, we'd wager) material with a thrilling blend of concert-hall polish and folksy vigor. Individual credits for the singers were inexcusably absent from the printed program.

The evening concluded with the bracing strains of the 1938 "Contrasts," in which clarinetist Amanda Walker crooned, bawled and caressed the part created for Benny Goodman with lushly varied tone and all the rhythmic cheekiness in the world, while violinist Haslop attended to his duties with unassuming virtuosity without giving in to the temptations of "expressive" scraping.

One had to take on faith a good deal of what the fluent and strong pianist, Joanne Pearce-Martin, was doing, since the acoustics of the Getty's Peristyle Garden do strange, blurry things to the piano's bass. But there could be no doubt that the three artists were functioning as a tightly knit unit, sensitively attuned to the Bartok idiom.

Our only regret regarding an evening offering such rewards was that it might have been a one-shot affair. Anything this good deserves repetition, even permanence.

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