The Tashi Quartet with Richard Stoltzman (the group's full and official designation on this tour) brought a middle-of-the-road program to the Artist's Theatre at Laguna Beach High School on Sunday night and met with a safe, medium-size success. Presented by the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society, the ensemble was just one week shy of its 17th birthday.
Clarinetist Stoltzman gets equal billing with the group these days, presumably because he has achieved renown as a solo/crossover artist and personality. In the event, however, he was on an equal chamber-music footing with his fellow Tashi members, except for the small privilege of appearing in different-colored attire and getting prominent solos in two encores.
As it was, the most satisfying performance of the evening didn't include Stoltzman. The Tashi Quartet--with founding members Ida Kavafian (violin) and Fred Sherry (cello) joined by Theodore Arm and Steven Tenenbom on violin and viola respectively--began with Haydn's String Quartet in C, Opus 74, No. 1.
This was a beautifully understated, naturally flowing reading that never called undue attention to itself.
The quartet's rich, elegant tone was perfectly suited to Haydn's warm, sunny music. Ensemble values were high, providing well-matched accents and articulations, solid intonation, and a comfortable, not showy, give-and-take. It was as gratifying for what they didn't do as for what they did.
Stoltzman came on with the next work, the Concerto a Tre, for clarinet, violin and cello, by Ingolf Dahl. Here, the players brought light, buoyant gracefulness to the Stravinskyian counterpoint and Coplandesque melodies. The music unfolded with balletic agility. Occasionally, however, Stoltzman tip-toed too subtly around his partners, disappearing into near inaudibility in some accompanying passages and making much too fine a point with the simple, central-movement melody.
Some of this carried over into the concluding work, Brahms' Quintet in B minor, Opus 115. The players brought unanimous fervency to their task, with the strings producing a noticeably more luxuriant tone and intense vibrato than previously. Stoltzman, however, although generally a sensitive and confident partner, was consistently high in pitch, and occasionally dealt in self-serving acrobatics. Still, there was much to admire here, especially the beautifully wrought Adagio, in which the bittersweet music became a palpable sigh.
Two inappropriate encores followed. After the Brahms, the brief quintet arrangements of "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and "Promenade" from the 1950 Fred Astaire film "Let's Dance" seemed mere puffery.