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Music Reviews : Quartet Serves a Stew From Latin America

October 11, 1994|HERBERT GLASS

The crucial difference between the Cuarteto Latinoamericano now and when first encountered a couple of seasons back is that its ever-present passion is today integral to the sort of polished ensemble that would allow for convincing interpretations of any repertory.

As if to underline the point, the Mexican idiom so brilliantly evoked in their very different ways by Silvestre Revueltas and Mario Lavista, composers prominent on past Cuarteto programs, was superseded in the Sunday program at Schoenberg Hall on the UCLA campus by an attempt to display the cosmopolitanism of Latin American music.

It didn't work in the opener, a pair of facelessly didactic "Sketches in Quarter-Tones" by Mexico's Julian Carillo, dating from the 1920s, when rigidly microtonal composing had its brief innings.

The members of the Cuarteto--violinists Saul and Aron Bitran, violist Javier Montiel, cellist Alvaro Bitran (the Bitrans are brothers)--are superbly equipped teachers, but their skills were more rewardingly employed elsewhere.

In "Metro Chabanco," another Mexican, Javier Alvarez, has produced a witty, minimalist-inspired bit of urban motorism, counterbalanced on the second half of Sunday's program by the tingling edginess of the equally brief "Four for Tango" by Argentina's Astor Piazzolla. Both pieces were delivered with irresistible panache and alluring tone.

The first of two more extended works heard, "Yiddishbuk" (the title of a collection of Yiddish "pseudo-psalms" that survive in fragmentary form in notebooks of Franz Kafka, it seems to have said in the confusing program notes), is a gripping creation by the Argentine Osvaldo Golijov, and which might have been written anywhere.

Golijov's programmatic references are to Terezin, to Isaac Bashevis Singer and to Leonard Bernstein, while stylistic references suggest a wide variety of sources, none Latin American.

The "classic" offering on the program was Heitor Villa-Lobos' voluptuous, superbly crafted Eighth Quartet (1946), in which Brazilian folk idiom--most clearly displayed in the carnival rhythms of the swirling Scherzo--becomes part of a highly personal and sophisticated style.

Its performance by Cuarteto Latinoamericano was masterful: sonorous, rhythmically incisive, faultlessly balanced.

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