On Monday at Cal State Northridge, in the first of three performances in the Music Guild chamber music series, the Alexander String Quartet served up a solid, well-rounded feast of works by the three masters of the quartet form spanning three centuries--Haydn, Beethoven and Bartok. They brought to each composer's work a requisite distinct character.
The San Francisco-based Alexander, formed in 1981, is making a return engagement with the Music Guild, and for good reason. This is a group deep in its element, firm in its stride.
Haydn's Quartet in C, the "Emperor," with its slow movement familiar after-the-fact as the German national anthem, emerged here as a model of gentility. Next up, Bartok's masterful Fourth Quartet--a piece that tends to steal the show when it is this well-played--featured a thoroughly Modernist countenance. The players relished the hushed, coiled enigma of its second movement, the brusque whimsy of its pizzicato adventures, and its overall structural blend of care and abandon.
The Alexander is also well up on Beethoven, having recorded the complete quartets for a nine-CD set last year. Its take on the Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, was engaging and richly understood. They seemed to comprehend that the heart of the work is the emotional third movement, a hymn to recuperation after one of Beethoven's bouts of illness.
All was not perfectly polished, and there were moments of straying intonation. But the group's central strength and clearly focused energy dominated.
* The Alexander String Quartet repeats this program at 8 tonight, Wilshire-Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. 8th St. $5-$22. (310) 552-3030.