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Schickele works his charm again

Accessible composer's `Three Cellos' is given its first performance at Pacific Serenades closer.

June 05, 2007|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

Cellos seize the spotlight in the latest Pacific Serenades program, the finale of the chamber music series' season. Sunday afternoon in Pasadena's Neighborhood Church, the fare included Classical-era quintets by Boccherini and Schubert, with two cellists rather than the typical twin violists, and a world premiere of Peter Schickele's plainly identified instrumental showcase, "Three Cellos."

Pacific Serenades' trademarks include a focus on mostly tonal music and easygoing contemporary sounds, plus an admirable commissioning pattern. Most of the pieces the series has ordered up -- which after 21 years total 86, as founder Mark Carlson announced Sunday -- have been by Los Angeles-based composers. But the list also includes more generally known and loved composers, such as the veteran American composer Ned Rorem and the smart charmer Schickele.

With his new piece, Schickele is up to his usual appealing tricks, in the unusual but perfectly sonorous setting of multiple cellos (Armen Ksajikian and the father-son team of David and Brook Speltz). From the restlessly driving opening movement through a wistful waltz and other emotional extremes, the work nicely typifies Schickele's compositional language and general joie de vivre, which make his music accessible even to those with a fear of living composers.

In the third, darker movement, Schickele bumps into a Philip Glass-ish passage, and elsewhere one detects the influence of jazz chords and the more neighborly aspects of Stravinsky's music. The fourth and final movement is a vigorous dance-happy waltz but with a melodic and harmonic palette far from the land of the Strausses. Schickele's proudly American heritage keeps trumping his Eurofied tendencies, and that's a good thing.

After intermission, a quintet (with the Speltzes, violinists Roberto Cani and Connie Kupka and violist David Walther) gave an impressive account of Schubert's masterful Quintet in C, D. 956. The same ensemble's reading of the concert-opening Boccherini Quintet in D, D. 276, was a bit rickety, but the Schubert was solidly played and moving.


Pacific Serenades

Where: UCLA Faculty Center, 405 N. Hilgard Ave., Westwood

When: 8 tonight

Price: $32

Contact: (213) 534-3434 or

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