Music Reviews : Hambro's Quartet

Leonid Hambro has not yet traded his identity as a serious musician for the commercial kitsch of a Liberace or the aggressive humor of a Victor Borge. At the moment, however, he stands just a few spangles and candelabra short of the first mark and just a few funnier bits of material from the second.

Whatever Hambro has in mind, his Hambro Quartet of Pianos would seem more suitable as entertainment for 4-H clubs or rural geriatric crowds than a concert audience at El Camino College, where the group appeared Sunday night.

That goes both for the comedy--with Hambro characterizing his quartet as "the only topless pianists around" (no lids on the instruments)--and the unabashedly pops program, which included such items as the Scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Leroy Anderson's "Typewriter Song."

At best, the evening could have been dubbed "Chopsticks" for Virtuosos--owing to Hambro's faulty logic. To wit: "If Debussy arranged 'Fetes' for two pianos," he said, "then the piece will be twice as good for four." But it wasn't. Nor could one find much interpretive sophistication anywhere on the program, although that possibility becomes remote in the advent of piano gangs.

Some things worked better than others--with its forward momentum and canonic structure, the overture to Bernstein's "Candide" allowed no lapsing into square rhythms and clonking unison sounds. But it was hard to take seriously even Thaddeus Wolfe's playing of Chopin's "Harp" Etude or a duet by the female members of the group, Bin Wang and Yoon-Sung Shin, who wore glitzy Vegas outfits.

But how could one sit still for this bit of cornball: The stage goes dark, each pianist enters with a candle, and the four then play Liszt's "Un Sospiro"?

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