Dance and Music Reviews : Elliott Carter Works Played at Chapman College

The Southwest Chamber Music Society is one of the few groups in this area which consistently programs challenging new music in context with undisputed classics. Thursday’s concert in Salmon Recital Hall at Chapman College was case in point, with two works by Elliott Carter setting off music by Schumann and Mozart.

Pianist Gloria Cheng opened with Carter’s “Night Fantasies.” This lengthy essay is Carter in familiar mold: his usual abrasiveness and abruptness, disjunct rhythms and all-encompassing range, complexities of an order resembling chaos. Fistfuls of crashing chords are juxtaposed with a kind of frenetic, atonal scat. Sharp accents overlay a hushed chorale, extreme high notes intermingle with low.

What does it all add up too? Like most night fantasies, it gets tedious. Cheng brought impressive virtuosity to bear, even managing a measure of elegance in this gnarled music.

Carter’s Duo for Violin and Piano began the second half. Here, the instruments seemed to take on distinctive personalities. The violin has declamatory, boisterous music, full of syncopated double stops ranging over the entire instrument. The piano part at first offers subdued commentary, sparse and spacey accompaniment, then slowly gets busier, takes a leading role and eventually influences the violin. Peter Marsh and Cheng performed with remarkable authority and agility.


Following Carter’s medicine on each half were spoonfuls of more pleasing substance. Schumann’s Piano Quartet, however, suffered greatly from Salmon’s reverberant acoustic, with muddy textures and obscured lines.

Mozart’s Piano Quartet, K. 487, was affected less severely, but the performance--with Marsh, violist Jan Karlin, cellist Richard Treat and pianist Albert Dominguez--lacked polish and a unified outlook.