REVIEWED BY CHARLES LONBERGER
In a concert of breadth and free-wheeling scope, at the First Christian Church of North Hollywood, a casual and relaxed California String Quartet were at their best on a program of extremes.
It opened with Dvorak's sweet and easy Waltz No. 1 in A Major, a work of cleverly disguised repetitions, which began with a flourish courtesy of lead violinist Katia Popov's bow. It was a pleasant listening experience, one on which cellist Armen Ksajikian plucked to his heart's content with a quiet authority.
This was followed by Ginastera's Impresiones de la Puna. Its opening Quenta: Lenta had an easy listening texture, while its Cancion: Moderato had broadly sketched Latin rhythms. The concluding Danza: Animado was jaunty, but turned suddenly and ominously dark at its conclusion. It was not disagreeable.
For this selection, the Quartet was joined by flautist Heather Clark, who was functional, beginning lazy and moody, but ending chipper, as required.
Most of the performance was consumed by Brahms' highly peculiar Piano Quartet in G Minor. We say peculiar, because for three of the four movements, its tone is turbulent, dense and stormy. The melody on the opening Allegro, introduced by Ksajikian on cello, is brooding, the orchestration is insistent, and the movement's character is essentially violent. The following Intermezzo: Allegro is a cascading movement filled with edgy harmonics, with Ksajikian's cello voicing an underlying darkness.
The Quartet was joined on this piece by pianist Yana Reznik, who mostly provided accents and support on the first two movements, but who was caught up in the floridity of her score on the third movement, Andante con Moto, so much so that she was overwhelmed by it. This part of the piece was wholly sentimental, yet also mock heroic.
The final movement, Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto perhaps was intended as a tonic by the composer to all the turbulence that had gone before, but, in any case, it was entirely out of character. A fiery, quasi-Hungarian frenzy of dance-like exuberance, it was pure folklore, and required furiously nimble fingering on the part of the cellist. It made for an extroverted, celebratory conclusion for an otherwise introverted, brooding work.
Violinist Lorand Lokuszta and violist Victor de Almeida basically played straight men on stage this day, overshadowed by the flashiness of Popov's slashing performance on first violin. But the recital was dominated by the powerful performance of Ksajikian on cello, which set the tone for every piece on the program. In a display of impressive musicianship, he not only guided the interpretations, but set the parameters for every piece performed this day, a remarkably far-reaching accomplishment.