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Chilingirian Quartet's Program Tests the Faith

February 16, 1996|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — The Chilingirian String Quartet played a program heavily weighted toward the devotional either in mood or style Wednesday as part of the Founders Hall series sponsored by the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Violinists Levon Chilingirian and Charles Sewart, violist 'Asdis Valdimarsdottir and cellist Philip DeGroote played works by John Tavener, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Part and Benjamin Britten with seriousness and concentration. It made for a demanding program on both sides of the music stands.

In meeting the composer's request for a resonant acoustic, the British quartet (assisted by local hand-bell player Nancy Jessup) and the audience moved to the airy and open theater-workshop space at the back of the Segerstrom Hall stage to give the U.S. premiere of Tavener's Quartet No. 2, "The Last Sleep of the Virgin."

A lovely, delicately scored work, it vanquishes easy pictorialization with episodes of prismatic harmonic clashes amid recurring sequences of Giotto-like purity.

Schnittke's Quartet No. 2 hammers dissonant Russian sacred music of the 16th and 17th centuries into compacted building blocks and reassembles them into a compelling work of contemporary struggle, affirmation and insistent, even grinding, comfort. It was played in Founders Hall itself, as was the rest of the program.

Juxtaposed with these heavyweight works, Part's single-minded "Fratres," in the string-quartet scoring, emerged merely simple-minded in religiosity.

For contrast, the program began with Britten juvenilia, the "Miniature Suite" written when the composer was 15. It is a sweet and lyrical work in which Britten is busy mastering small forms and exploring and enjoying the various combinations he can get from the four instruments.

The quartet played Part's wistful, bucolic "Summa" as the single encore.

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