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Familiar era, unusual choices

October 24, 2002|Daniel Cariaga

Southwest Chamber Music's 16th season began Tuesday night in Zipper Concert Hall at downtown Los Angeles' Colburn School of Performing Arts with a bracing agenda of unhackneyed works by Wagner, Elgar and Richard Strauss. It was the first of four "Autumn Twilight" programs that the group will perform through Nov. 12.

This quartet of concerts surveys a familiar period -- from 1875 to 1918, the end of the Romantic period and the opening of a new century -- with new perspectives and unusual music choices. Some of these were outlined in the pre-concert discussion founding artistic director Jeff von der Schmidt had with musicians Natalie Limonick and Mark Menzies; they were made clearer with the polished performances that followed.

Gayle Blankenburg first played Wagner's "The Arrival of the Black Swans," an affecting, brief piano piece based on a phrase from a "Tannhauser" aria. Then, joined by the Southwest's resident string quartet -- violinists Menzies and Johnny Chang, violist Jan Karlin and cellist Paula Fehrenbach -- Blankenburg was the protagonist in Edward Elgar's Piano Quintet in A minor from 1919. It was dedicated to the memory of Mehli Mehta.

The performance emerged passionate and touching; particularly moving was the central, noble Adagio. The extended finale tended to dawdle rather than push ahead.

The high point of the evening was the revival of Strauss' melodrama "Enoch Arden," for speaker and piano, in this case Blankenburg and her husband, Heinz, an international operatic figure now retired.

Together, these artists held the Southwest audience tightly in the dramatic grip of the Tennyson epic. They did so without overperforming or exaggeration but by giving the words and the musical continuity the respect of clear statement and sensitive timing. It was one of the more satisfying hours Southwest Chamber Music has given us.


Southwest Chamber Music

Where: Norton Simon Museum Theater, Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.

When: Repeats the Zipper program at 8 tonight.

Price: $10-$25.

Contact: (800) 726-7147.

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