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Music Reviews : Franciscan String Quartet at Historic Site

The Chamber Music in Historic Sites series came up a winner again on Sunday afternoon, not only for allowing the public to view the 1880s charm of the Woodbury House in Altadena but for using it as a showcase for the Franciscan String Quartet.

The Franciscans, four young women trained at the San Francisco Conservatory and currently in residence at Dartmouth College, are a tight-knit, technically secure ensemble, big in tone--or so it seemed in the lively Woodbury acoustic--with perfectly matched, sensibly applied vibratos.

Every glorious facet of Haydn’s Quartet in G minor, “The Horseman,” glistened in the hands of these players: violinists Wendy Sharp and Alison Harney, violist Marcia Cassidy, cellist Margery Hwang. The outer movements were crisp, compact, appropriately driven, while the sublime slow movement, with its searing harmonies, unfolded broadly and lushly.

There couldn’t be more to George Rochberg’s Quartet No. 5 than meets the ear since a dozen composers are clearly discernible. It is hardly a subtle work and decidedly a silly one, based strictly--and intentionally--on the styles of other composers. There’s old Ludwig, as himself and cavorting in vaguely Gypsy guise; there’s Schumann, there’s Bartok, and Schoenberg and Mahler. Could that be Fritz Kreisler? Nah. Maybe it’s George Rochberg, if there really is a George Rochberg.

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The Franciscans played this twaddle with enthusiastic virtuosity and it didn’t frighten the audience, which is more than can be said for most compositions dating from 1978.

Finally, a darkly dramatic, unsentimental reading of Schubert’s C-minor “Quartettsatz” disclosed another of the group’s strengths, their employment and mastery of an extraordinarily wide dynamic range.


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