REVIEWED BY CHARLES LONBERGER
The Beverly Hills Outlook, March 10th, 2005 issue
"Chamber music was written for those musicians who aren’t good enough to be soloists." Having been thus unsolicitedly informed by a Christian ignoramus at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church (unfortunately, ignoramuses abound between the pews in Churches), I settled down to watch the wonderful California String Quartet tackle a very varied program with the rain pouring down outside.
But, while I did, and while they played, I was further distracted by a painter creating an abstract behind the group on a podium. I failed to see any interconnectedness between his activity and theirs, save for the silent auction it would be sold at to benefit them. I tried my best to ignore it, and listened while the Quartet began with Haydn’s Quartet #6, which made order out of passion. Group leader Katia Popov was playful and firm on her first violin, with a very mellow tone making the adagio essentially sweet, although it took a turn towards anxiety, with tension arising out of a shift to a minor key. But the Menuetto was once again chipper before the Finale Allegro in which Popov’s First violin and Samuel Fischer’s Second violin reinforced each other, while warily circling each other and maintaining a respectful distance. After waving to her fans, Ms. Popov rejoined us to take off on the rip-roaring ride that is Shostakovich’s String Quartet #3. Propelled by Armen Ksajikian’s cello, its main melody was sung by Popov’s strings. Violist Darrin McCann set the beat, against which Popov nervously fiddled, in its Moderato con moto, and Fischer, McCann and Ksajikian made musical dark clouds on its Allegro non troppo, while Popov played an Yiddish theme. The Adagio was like wandering out after carnage, with McCann’s viola mourning. The Moderato opened creepy, then turned mock, and finally stridently horrific, with Popov’s violin left alone following a twisted lyricism. The composition was a scream amongst turmoil.
The quartet returned for the final number, Borodin’s Double Cello Quintet, in which the remarkable tone and dynamic playing of guest cellist Andrew Shulman is to be mentioned. The tone of the ensemble itself was a wonder to hear in this refined and conventional composition of pure harmony, although its Finale Prestissimo was fiery as a gypsy camp flame. Unsettlingly, this movement gravitated to the dark and dreary before snapping back to the high spirits again at its conclusion. Taken as a whole, the musicianship all afternoon was shining and simply soared.