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Schickele, Armadillos in Frolicsome Form

March 19, 1997|JOHN HENKEN

The Schickele experience is a varied and vertiginous one, as the Armadillo String Quartet demonstrated once again, with its seventh annual "Evening With Peter Schickele." The wonted cheery wit and manic energies of the inventor of P.D.Q. Bach were much in evidence Monday at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, but so too were the composer's less vaunted lyricism and expressive elegance.

Schickele's Piano Quintet, in its West Coast premiere, with the composer at the keyboard, and his String Quartet No. 2, "In Memoriam," were the major works. Both have their moments--even a preponderance--of high-octane buzz, but both find an emotional core in Elegy movements, which also share intimations of tolling bells. These are difficult pieces, and the effort showed at times, but violinists Barry Socher and Steve Scharf, violist Raymond Tischer and cellist Armen Ksajikian have a real affinity for the composer's straightforwardness and terraced forms, and, most important, share his sense of joy in musical doings.

Laced with Schickele's wry and rambling spoken commentary, the program also included the first performances of some occasional pieces. The lovely "Eagle Rock" Sonatina for cello and piano, with its frenetic pizzicato Scherzo and caressing Lullaby, will surely find a welcome home in the repertory of cellists as rich in tone as Ksajikian. The slender Seven Miniatures for Violin and Piano--new violin obbligatos added to some 20-year-old piano pieces--work best in reflection, as fluently presented by Socher and the composer. To this category also belongs the lone encore, a sort of pre-premiere of "Viola Dreams," a quodlibet of famous and not-so-famous phrases from the chamber music repertory that Schickele wrote for his brother's birthday. The Armadillos gave it a zesty, balanced reading.

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