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MUSIC REVIEW : Viklarbo Ensemble Plays in Young Artist Series Finale

Glad news and sad news emerged Sunday afternoon at the final Young Artist Series concert of the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society’s 1988-89 season.

The glad news is Viklarbo, a bright, nearly new (together since 1987) Los Angeles-based chamber ensemble of enterprising, just post-conservatory musicians. Violinist Maria Newman, pianist Wendy Prober, clarinetist Jeff Elmassian and cellist Sebastian Toettcher graced the Laguna High School Auditorium with a performance of music by Bartok, Stravinsky and Brahms that boasted conspicuous promise.

Sadly, this season valedictory terminated the series itself. Citing sparse attendance at the Sunday afternoon concerts, the Society is abandoning them.

Viklarbo ended the series on a decidedly auspicious note. Prober and Elmassian possess technical and expressive security in equal measure. Newman, a performer with bona fide flair, is still growing as technician, while Toettcher is the most demurely artistic. Their aggregate musical acumen and polish is considerable.

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Newman’s transcription for violin and clarinet of eight of Bartok’s 44 Duos for Two Violins just missed success. More competitive than complementary, the combination compromised the composer’s intentions as each instrument searched in vain for its aural counterpart in the other.

“Pizzicato” and “Erdelyi tanc,” the Magyar equivalent of a hoedown, profited from the Newman-Elmassian mercurial rhythmic response, which also buoyed a suite from Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat.” Newman’s spidery tone served animated passages splendidly but left sustained melody lines undernourished, while her vibrato, often uneven and too slow, rendered some of them overly cloying.

She and Toettcher offered superb ensemble precision and stylistic authenticity in lieu of the big, burnished sound indispensable to Brahms’ great C-major Trio. Prober, however, owns the grand line and the strength to power it. Despite deferentially gauged dynamics, the piano emerged as consistent protagonist. The cumulative effect was nonetheless satisfying, musically and emotionally.

Gershwin’s second piano Prelude, arranged as encore for all four players, found Elmassian’s plaintive exposition of the theme irresistible.

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