MUSIC REVIEW : Southwest Chamber Society Closes Season With Fire


To some in the general public, the term chamber music denotes staid and cool performances of Classical repertory. But that description contradicts what connoisseurs know: that, in whatever styles the scores at hand, heat and light are the attributes most to be cherished in the musical chamber.

Closing its fifth, most ambitious and most difficult season, the Southwest Chamber Music Society this week mounted a program that consistently demands those attributes. At the first of two performances, Thursday night at Chapman University, five players of the Society--two of them new to this series--delivered intense, apparently comprehensive accounts of music by Stephen Mosko, the late Olivier Messiaen and Tchaikovsky.

A very live acoustic characterizes Salmon Recital Hall, and the resident Kawai piano itself tends to produce metallic sounds in this room.

Both elements conspired Thursday to stress the aural brightness possible in all three scores: Mosko’s “For Morton Feldman” for flute, cello and piano, Messiaen’s “Quatre Etudes de rhythme” (1950) for piano solo, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Opus 50.


No harm seemed to be done, however, to the sensibilities of the attentive crowd gathered in the pleasant Chapman facility. What one heard were heated readings of passionate music. If those readings sometimes grew quite loud, perhaps that is a reflection of the true nature of each work.

As she was reported to do two weeks ago at the Ojai Festival, Gloria Cheng brought effortless facility, power and virtuosity to the myriad complexities of Messiaen’s four rhythmic studies; at the same time, she made them attractive to hear and easy to follow, a feat of intellect, to say the least.

With flutist Dorothy Stone and cellist Paul Kellett, Cheng also illuminated the fascinating movement and ruminations in “Lucky” Mosko’s 18-minute abstract musical essay. Mosko, in a spoken program note before the performance, called this work “static,” a word that does not begin to indicate the actual excitement, progress and sense of continuity--in an idiom of grating atonality--one heard in it.

Over-the-top excitement marked performance of Tchaikovsky’s A-minor Trio by violinist Peter Marsh, cellist Kellett and pianist Leonard Stein--at 75, the newest member of the Society’s playing roster. With Marsh on board, that excitement sometimes gave way to gorgeous lyricism, momentary reflectiveness and relative calm. Still, the musical temperature seldom dropped.

The program was scheduled to be repeated Friday in Pasadena.