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Chamber Music Perfection

The Beverly Hills Outlook - an online publication
Speaking strictly in terms of execution, the chamber music concert given by the California String Quartet on April 24th at the Zipper represented complete musical perfection. Under the leadership of violinist Katia Popov, the group was clearly well rehearsed and played as if of one mind. It was as if the four on stage were one, both in interpretive approach and their physical bodies. Second violinist Samuel Fischer, to whom many key passages were entrusted, showed an almost intuitive synchronization with Popov and the others, cellist Armen Ksajikian and violist Andrew Duckles. Rather than flavoring the whole, the ensemble conjoined to present a single artistic intelligence in essaying three very different works.
The first of which was Haydn's Quartet Opus 20, #4. Each instrument gloriously contributed to a sterling, seamless performance, one that was as stunning as Ms. Popov's appearance. The harmony of the Enlightenment was perfectly expressed by this interpretation, which put polish on this jewel.
Unfortunately, the second section, Haim Strum's "Trio String quartets after oil paintings," made me ask: where is John Cage, now that we need him? Cage, at least, as an aesthetic that allows pipes and brooms to be used "musically," thereby accounting for ugliness, which reinvigorates our sensibilities that have become accustomed to plastic beauty. Strum, however, had no excuse, in making the strings sound out of sorts. It was as if they were hell bent on making sound effects, not music. Yet the Quartet played it as flawlessly as if they were playing a masterpiece.
For Schubert's String Quartet in C Major, the group was joined by the exceptional British cellist, Andrew Shulmann, who fit perfectly in place as they bathed in the moodiness of the composer. In fact, it was remarkable to note that where Haydn had very carefully separated the moods and their effects in the various sections of his Quartet, Schubert showcased shifts of mood within the same movement, making his work much more complicated than Haydn, emotionally at war with itself.
The playing of Popov and Ksajikian, in particular, by its very faultlessness, emphasized these conflicting musical personalities. It helped us to hear a masculine and a feminine psychology sandwiched around the sort of contemporary ugliness that gives modern music its bad name. But whether for better or for worse, the California String Quartet demonstrated that Chamber Music can be sublime, when prepared and executed with the sort of care apparent to all who were fortunate enough to hear it this night.