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MUSIC REVIEW : Ridge String Quartet at Caltech

What is the secret of music- making so engaging, so exquisite, so delicious as that offered by the Ridge String Quartet Sunday at Caltech?

It certainly goes beyond mere accuracy of execution, though in matters of intonation, tone quality, balance and technical precision, one could find little to complain about. It has more to do with the distinctiveness of the performances--the personality of the music.

The quartet’s reading of Schumann’s Quartet in A, Opus 41, No. 3 is a case in point. While the four players capitalized fully on the work’s many contrasts, showing a remarkably wide dynamic spectrum, they proved especially alert to the subtleties of the score. They shaped phrases with eloquence, bent tempos at just the threshold of perceptibility and brought delightful piquancy to the little dissonances that figure throughout the work.

The only blemish in the performance was the players’ tendency to inhale audibly at dramatic moments.

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There have been some personnel changes since Southland listeners first heard the ensemble, as the winner of the 1982 Coleman Competition, but Bartok’s quartets have remained a constant in the group’s repertory. And the work that garnered it the top prize--the Second Quartet--was what violinists Krista Bennion Feeney and Robert Rinehart (the founding members), violist Maria Lambros and cellist Peter Wyrick offered at Beckman Auditorium Sunday.

Striking a balance between the dramatic intensity and the heady complexity of the work, the foursome gave a reading both intellectually probing and emotionally stirring.

Their reading of Haydn’s Quartet in F minor (“Razor”) also proved a fine combination of elegance and ebullience. Under Feeney’s strong leadership, the quartet played with vigor--but never raucousness--and allowed Haydn’s delightful wit to come to the fore.


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