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Music Review

Vermeer Quartet at Its Best With Bartok

September 08, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A danger in putting a powerhouse work like Bartok's Sixth String Quartet on a program--and playing it very well--is that the surrounding material tends to pale by comparison. That's what happened at the season opening of USC's Spectrum series at Newman Recital Hall on Wednesday night, when the Vermeer Quartet burrowed so deeply into the spirit of Bartok's last quartet that its perfectly respectable takes on Schubert's Quartet in B-flat, Opus 168, and Tchaikovsky's No. 3 in E-flat minor seemed, somehow, like dull, well-dressed companions in comparison to the charismatic Hungarian.

Chicago-based and with a solid reputation dating back 30 years now, the Vermeer Quartet plays with a cogent, lived-in manner, less persnickety about eat-off-the-floor cleanliness than the rough vibrancy of good music-making. That virtuous energy level boded well for the Bartok, in all its conflicting emotions and frictional contrasts. Between the tentative laments and acerbic stuff, like the third movement's sly glissandos and woozy out-of-tune moments, the work challenges performers to meet its paradox. It's propped up with both objective cool and emotive fervor, a Modernist recipe that this group handled beautifully.

Schubert's quartet is all about lustrous melodies strung a bit haphazardly on a line. The group gave its considerable all to the second slow movement and the brisk assertions of the last. Things got a bit scruffy, in intonation and collective string tone, with the Tchaikovsky, but the players succeeded where it counted, in the masterfully grievous third movement. Their mutes acted like tear-stained veils on notes that epitomize eloquent Romantic-era sorrow.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 14, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 56 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong date--The Alfred Newman Recital Hall at USC opened in January 1999. A music review of the Vermeer Quartet in Friday's Calendar had the date wrong.

For an encore, they brought out the last movement of Haydn's Quartet in C, Opus 74, No. 1, a sprightly and polished race to a happy finish. The peripheral star of the show was the hall itself, an inspiring and newly renovated space open since January. Chamber music has a new, happy home in Los Angeles.

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