In opening its 11th season with a well-crafted program featuring an important premiere, Southwest Chamber Music was putting its best foot forward. Which its venue Thursday, the Museum of Tolerance, promptly stepped on, as the simultaneous opening of an exhibit of press photography contributed minor nuisances in crowding and parking, and major sonic disruptions.
The dishearteningly frequent clanging, apparently erupting from the much-used elevators behind the concert audience, made well-chosen, generally well-played music difficult to experience whole.
Thus it was easy to admire the skill with which Bay Area modernist Richard Felciano manipulated the materials of his new String Quartet, a Southwest commission, but hard to tell if its cumulative impact would be as intense as seemed possible. The piece evolves organically from nervous quarter-tone flutterings to open-fifth quiescence, with a composer-noted but imperceptible Mozart quotation and a blatant homage to Vivaldi along the way.
Violinists Agnes Gottschewski and Amy Sims, violist Jan Karlin and cellist Maggie Edmondson attended its febrile urgings with devoted care in a fully meshed performance of balance and color. They had seemed more distracted in Barber's String Quartet, evincing more determination than polish until hitting their stride in the famous Adagio, unbreakably rapt against all odds.
After intermission pianist Susan Svrcek joined the quartet--with the violinists exchanging chairs--in Shostakovich's G-minor Quintet, Opus 57. They defined its mechanical and structural abstractions, climbed its anguished arcs of passion, and smiled over its seemingly inconsequential coquetries, but on a movement-by-movement basis. Integration is never easy in this piece; under the circumstances achieving even isolated glories was remarkable.
* The program will be repeated tonight, 8 p.m., Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd. $10-$20. (800) 726-7147.