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MUSIC REVIEWS

Artis Quartet Pulls Off Some Surprises

March 19, 1997|HERBERT GLASS

Anticipation of the Artis String Quartet's don't-make-waves agenda at Pierce College on Monday hardly ran high, but, happily, it sounded better than it looked on paper. The ensemble from Vienna gives value for the money, even when the gods of programming take the night off.

The nominal event of this Music Guild concert was Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, which this season can be encountered in local concert halls at least once a month. On this occasion, in an agile reading composed of clean lines, darkish, warm tone, keenly balanced ensemble and a straightforward interpretive stance (easy on the vibrato, rhythmically terse), the big Schubertian picture was kept in focus and minutiae be damned. The old warhorse may not have sounded fresh, but neither was there the feeling that the players were merely going through the motions.

There were pleasant surprises, however, in a Quartet in E flat (without opus number) by 14-year-old Felix Mendelssohn. Its soulful slow movement, in which the Artis' normally reserved first violinist, Peter Schuhmayer, put on some beguiling gypsy airs, is a major charmer, while the flashily intricate fugal finale provided Schuhmayer and his colleagues, second violinist Johannes Meissl, violist Herbert Kefer and cellist Othmar Muller, the opportunity to put on a terrific show of four-part harmony and pinpoint note juggling.

The most consistent musical rewards came in the form of Haydn's gloriously quirky "Horseman" Quartet, Opus 74, No. 3: sonorous and dramatic in these superbly accomplished musicians' hands but never crossing the border into Romantic territory.

* The Artis String Quartet repeats this program tonight at 8, Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. 8th St. $20-$24. (310) 275-9040.

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