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A Young Alma String Quartet Displays Bright Promise

April 03, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If one didn't know better, the Alma String Quartet could pass for a group well on its professional way. In fact, the group is composed of UCLA music students, who showed great promise and musical sheen in concert at Schoenberg Hall on Sunday.

This is no casual thrown-together group assembled in the line of educational duty. The Alma--violinists Searmi Park and Dorthy Kwon, violist Lisa Fernandez and cellist Giovanna Moraga--formed in 1996 and won the Russell Award at the Coleman Chamber Music Competition a year ago.

On Sunday, their readings of Haydn, Shostakovich and Dvorak showed a group taking great care to do the right things, handily imbuing the music with dynamic sensitivity and interpretive vigor. A more relaxed, lived-in ensemble texture will come in time.

Haydn's Quartet in C, Opus 20, No. 2 got an energizing cleanliness, right through an ears-wide-open reading of the closing fugue. The going was a bit rougher, in all the right ways, for Shostakovich's emotionally complex Third Quartet. Written in 1946, the work has a secret life as program music about the arc of war, from blithe denial to the heat of battle to mourning.

After intermission, the ensemble came out with a change of dress, swapping the previous all-black theme for a colorful array of formal wear. Likewise, their take on Dvorak's Quartet in D Minor, Opus 34 was a multicolored thing, its bittersweet romantic spirit duly noted. One sour note in the last chord of the Adagio was notable primarily because the intonation was so firmly in check for the rest of the performance. Gifted students are human, too.

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