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MUSIC REVIEW : American Quartet's Mastery and Passion

March 06, 1995|HERBERT GLASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — The American String Quartet, always a strong ensemble, has become a world-beater in the five years since the acquisition of Peter Winograd as first violinist.

The group's program Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre was, simply put, a comprehensive display of ensemble mastery, of passion, precision and interpretive smarts in near-perfect synchrony with veterans Laurie Carney, the second violinist, violist Daniel Avshalomov and cellist David Geber.

After dispensing neatly with what is arguably the least inventive of Beethoven's Opus 18 quartets, the work in G, the Americans proceeded to show their stuff with Ravel's Quartet in F. The delivery was not as a hard-driving virtuoso showpiece but as an un-didactic exercise in stylishness, replete with the enhancing employment of subtle portamentos, a practice unfortunately disdained by most of our younger string players.

By turns gentle and explosive, feathery and grandly sonorous, the Americans' Ravel was at once up to the minute in its propulsiveness and appealingly retro-Romantic in its sound and emotional climate.

Schubert's vast String Quintet in C, which crowned the evening, can make its imposing points even in less sympathetic and skilled hands than those of the American String Quartet and its perfectly attuned partner of the present occasion, Angeles Quartet cellist Stephen Erdody. But it would be foolish to suggest that we, and Schubert, weren't the richer for being in the presence of such acutely balanced ensemble and intense commitment as was shown by these artists.

Schubert's spell was powerfully cast, with the intimately lyrical as fully exposed as the full-throatedly dramatic.

There was some loose ensemble at the start of the finale, with Winograd seemingly on the brink of exhaustion. But he and his colleagues recovered quickly, and the long, taxing score hurtled to a vigorous and orderly conclusion.

Hot tip: The American String Quartet returns to the Southland next week, with a different program, for Music Guild-sponsored concerts in Long Beach, Woodland Hills and Los Angeles.

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