Music and Dance Reviews : Piano Quartet Plays New Hartke Composition

A concert by the Los Angeles Piano Quartet--played to a sizable, knowledgeable audience at Royce Hall, UCLA, on Sunday--provided further evidence that the LAPQ may be this city’s most potent and accomplished resident chamber ensemble.

The quartet is to be admired for its polished, penetrating interpretations and for enlarging the repertory for its combination of instruments.

On this occasion we heard the latest effort in its own behalf: the West Coast premiere of an instantly appealing (without populist pandering), handsomely crafted work, “The King of the Sun,” commissioned from Stephen Hartke, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer in residence and a member of the USC faculty.

Hartke’s 18-minute-long set of tableaux reacts to paintings of Joan Miro, reactions by turns clever-whimsical, as in the stutter-stepping, rhythmically complex, faintly jazzy “Personages in the night guided by the phosphorescent tracks of snails” (the personages seem to be doing their best not to step on the snails) or wistful-warm, as in the final “Personages and birds rejoicing at the arrival of night.”


Along the way one encounters a medieval hoedown, patches of plainchant and, at nearly every turn, rhythmic vitality and respect for the audience’s intelligence as well as its desire to be entertained.

That the performance was masterful hardly needs saying, but one should compliment the players--pianist James Bonn, violinist Joseph Genualdi, violist Ronald Copes and cellist Peter Rejto--for keeping the staples on the program equally spontaneous-sounding.

There were no surprises in the C-minor Quartet of Faure (whose scherzo trio may have suggested the finale of Hartke’s piece) or Schumann’s E-flat Quartet, but both were played with such energetic affection and precision that they could be received as welcome old friends rather than tiresomely ubiquitous house guests.