CSQ At Their Expansive Best

REVIEWED BY CHARLES LONBERGER

The California String Quartet rang in the New Year (on January 4th) at the First Christian Church of North Hollywood, with a wild concert, which was programmatically all over the place.

They opened the afternoon with Mozart's String Quartet, no. 23 in F Major, which, in its Allegro moderato, concealed real wit in its scoring, and on which violinist Lorand Lokuszta literally played second fiddle, while violist Aaron Oltman slid up and down the scales. Primarily, however, this movement was a dialogue between cellist Armen Ksajikian, looking like the great God Bacchus Himself, and first violinist Katia Popov, who spent much of the concert adjusting her straps, although this did not prevent her from giving a fiercely committed performance. She was memorably sweet in her playing at the conclusion of the second movement, the Andante (in autograph 1st edition: Allegretto), which was formal and possessed of a certain somberness. She was also excellent in her modulation on the more robust third movement, Munuetto (Allegretto). Interestingly, it's concluding Allegro (which was graced by particularly nimble fingering by Ksajikian), sprightly and good-natured, could not disguise a fundamental restlessness.

The Quartet quickly returned with Saint-Saens' String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, an interesting, if self-indulgent piece, played by the foursome with commitment. Its opening Allegro began tentatively, containing an underlying disquiet and unease, and evolved into an unrestrained Romanticism bursting at the seams, which the Quartet played with such energy and force that Ksajikian was left furiously mopping his brown at its conclusion.

Continuing on the same path, the second movement, Molto Allegro Quasi Presto, began with edgy pizzicatoing, was vitulant, with Popov and Ksajikian very aggressive on their instruments. The single, most bizarre musical movement of the program came with this composition's third, Molto Adagio, which was treacly before turning overemphatic. But, just as suddenly, it became abruptly quaint, before ending on an almost abstract sonic effect, realized perfectly by the close interaction of Popov and Ksajikian. Its final movement, Allegro Non Troppo started strident, winding down only to rev up again, concluding with a conventionally Romantic signature.

But, wait! In a complete about face, the Quartet used a pair of encores to change the character of the concert entirely, beginning with a lively, lilting Radetsky March, which solicited the clapping of hands that normally, giving the setting, would have been clasped in prayer. The program ended with Leroy Anderson's Plink Plank Plunk, complete with noise makers and gaggers. Despite the Sturm und Drang of Saint-Saens, the afternoon, thus, concluded giddy and light-hearted.

So 2010 began with an experience, whose strangeness only distracted from, but did not minimize, the fine display of musicianship by the Quartet that executed it.