Music Reviews : Alexander Quartet In Caltech Debut

The Coleman Chamber Concerts series presented the local debut of the Alexander String Quartet, a fine young ensemble based in Upstate New York, at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium Sunday afternoon.

The players--violinists Eric Pritchard and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, cellist Sandy Wilson--project an appealingly warm, middleweight tone within the context of lively, unmannered interpretations. They would seem, however, to need some help in the critical area of program-building.

The afternoon began, predictably, with a classical work: Mozart's Quartet in D, K. 575. It was, less predictably, not treated as warm-up fodder. The ensemble came to it fully prepared, producing an interpretation marked by sweetness of tone and judicious balances, with the cello, true to Mozart's intention, subtly dominant.

A curiosity followed--the Southland premiere (and, one suspects, derniere) of the "Little" Quartet No. 2 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, five minutes of hangdog tremolo-pizzicato alternation that pass virtually unnoticed, to judge from the audience's reaction.

Maxwell Davies' trifle, written for the Alexander Quartet, is, according to the Coleman annotator, "meant for an . . . audience of Tuscan town and country people and is full of the sunshine and warmth of that part of Italy." So is whoever is responsible for that description--full of sunshine and warmth, that is.

The brevity of the Maxwell Davies work seemed a virtue beside what followed: the not-so-famous String Quartet of Samuel Barber with the very famous midsection--the melody known in the composer's string-orchestra arrangement as "Adagio for Strings."

Unfortunately, the two-movement remainder is notable only for presenting the same unmemorable material as both prelude and postlude to the Adagio.

Finally, Brahms' hard-breathing Quartet in C minor, Opus 51, No. 1, showed some ragged edges in the Alexander's ensemble, but they did have the sense to stress the music's elegiac qualities over its bombast. These young men are, clearly, thinking musicians rather than passion's slaves.

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