This and That--Reviews of the Dunsmuir Piano Quartet and Lark Quartet; what to look for in MoSy conductors.
Thursday, October 15, 1998
Pianist Justin Blasdale obviously provides the Dunsmuir Piano Quartet with its focal personality. On paper, this would be obvious from their program which opened the renamed Chamber Music Monterey Bay''s season last week in Carmel; composers Josef Haydn, Robert Helps and Johannes Brahms are well-known keyboard specialists. Indeed, it wasn''t until the program''s finale, Brahms''s full-course Piano Quartet in G Minor, that the strings, as a polished unit, came into their own, fulfilling the promise of the entire ensemble in generous proportions.
Ingratiating as it is, Haydn''s Piano Trio in E holds most of its best stuff in the piano. With its walking bass and shamelessly flamboyant right hand, the slow movement, Allegretto, is nothing less than a prototype of American stride jazz, minus the blues scale.
Of course, turnabout is always fair play. Seventy-year-old American Robert Helps serves up a Baroque-inspired suite in his 17-minute Piano Quartet, composed for Dunsmuir in 1997. With French clarity, piquant palette and classical craftsmanship, the five movements fill the ear with easy charm and wit. The first movement, for piano alone, floats upon suspended harmonies reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen.
The Lark Quartet opened the Mozart Society season last week in Pacific Grove with string quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Schumann. After a raw-sounding beginning, the four players quickly adjusted their collective voice to the responsive acoustics of Mayflower Church, and gave a fine account of Haydn''s Quartet in D, Op 64:5, "Lark," until the final movement when their spirited fleetness was bogged down by overripe resonance. Lark''s violist, 21-year-old Danielle Farina, in her first season with the quartet, asserted her instrument''s good name in Mozart''s brazenly avant-garde masterpiece Quartet in C "Dissonant," the performance highlight of the evening. Schumann''s Quartet in F opened with the lush allure of a romantic barcarolle, but succumbed now and then, to excessive sonority, especially in the elfin scherzo which unfortunately also outran its own rhythmic veracity.
After the Monterey Symphony mailed a confusing questionnaire to its subscribers, this column was beset with requests for guidance in evaluating the conductors this season (starting this weekend) who are candidates for the post of Monterey Symphony music director. While the quality of individual artistic vision and temperament is both the hardest and easiest to respond to subjectively, numerous objective criteria may prove to be the deciding factor.
Here''s what to listen for and evaluate:
&bul; Rhythm: A conductor may speed up or slow the tempo for expressive purposes, but must reconcile these adjustments to the meter (3/4, 4/4, 6/8, etc.), always keeping the pulse clear. The slower the tempo, the harder this is to do.
&bul; Balance: Making sure that the different voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass, contrabass) of orchestral fabric sound their proper loudness accomplishes two things. It reveals details of the composer''s design and, more important, it keeps the harmony clear. Harmony is responsible for moving music forward toward its ultimate destination. If one voice in any given chord is too loud, it can seem to invert the chord and rob it of its function in the ongoing harmonic scheme.
&bul; Line: How the principal melodic line is phrased usually accounts for the changes of tempo within a given meter. Since the principal melodic line is usually the most conspicuous expressive element, it can speak volumes about the conductor''s artistic vision and "feeling."
&bul; Dynamics: The domain of loud (forte) and soft (piano), this is how a conductor gives depth to a performance. A skilled conductor can exert an increasing gravitational pull on an audience as the music gets quieter and quieter. An unskilled conductor will rush a crescendo to climax too soon, leaving an orchestra with no way to get louder even though the score calls for it. Dynamics is also what gives music its drama.
Last Week''s Quiz What well-known dance form in three-quarter time stresses the second beat? Answer: Mazurka.
This Week''s Quiz: If your favorite violin player cannot specifically identify the ''eye of the bow,'' look here next week.
Saturday, 8pm. In its 25th season, Kronos Quartet plays works by Prt, Cage, Riley, Hildegard of Bingen, Machaut, Schnittke, others. Music Center Recital Hall, UC Santa Cruz. $30 general, $25 students/seniors. 459-2159.
Santa Cruz Chamber Players
Saturday, 8pm. Cantatas by JS Bach, concertos by Vivaldi, Handel, Leclair. First Congregational Church, 900 High St., Santa Cruz. $12/general; $9/seniors; $5/students. 425-3149.
Philippine Performing Arts Company
Saturday, 8pm. Pasacat troupe hosted by Cabrillo Distinguished Artists. Cabrillo College Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. $14/general; $10/seniors & students. 479-6331.
Sunday, 3pm; Monday, 8pm; Tuesday, 8pm. Dmitri Yablonsky conducts Prokofiev''s Classical Symphony, Tchaikovsky''s Rococo Variations featuring cellist Shauna Rolston, Brahms''s Symphony 1 in C Minor. Sunday/Monday: Sunset Center, San Carlos Street & 9th Avenue, Carmel. Tuesday: Sherwood Hall, 940 North Main St., Salinas. Ticket prices/reservations, 624-8511.
Wednesday, 8pm. Soprano Patrice Maginnis, flutist Leta Miller, pianist Michael McGushin in works by Corigliano, Gorecki, Cowell, Mumma. Music Center Recital Hall, UC Santa Cruz. $8/general; $5/seniors; $3/students. 459-2159.