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MUSIC REVIEW : Confidence vs. Conservatism in Fullerton Program

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It seemed almost as if there were two different concerts at the Sunny Hills Performing Arts Center Sunday afternoon: a technically sure, dramatically intelligent vocal recital by tenor Jonathan Mack, and a timid, lackluster performance by the Armadillo String Quartet.

Luckily, the program, under the auspices of the Fullerton Friends of Music, began and ended with the stronger protagonist, in two sets of six songs.

Mack took his first selections from Beethoven’s many settings of British, Scottish and Irish folk songs, choosing mostly light, even ribald examples and offering them with crisp authority and a good sense of fun. Pianist Raul Herrera lent clean, unobtrusive support along with violinist Barry Socher and cellist Armen Ksajikian.

For the last of the folk-song arrangements, “God Save Our Lord the King,” Mack invited the audience to sing along in alternation with his solo lines. If it seemed patronizing, the impression was dispelled easily with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ stark cycle “On Wenlock Edge,” which requires forceful delivery of its despairing poems, taken from A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad.”

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After a bland opening (perhaps he was distracted by a crowd that could not be quieted prior to the first notes), Mack delivered impressive, evocative and commanding readings. His voice remained consistent as it traversed register-changes; enunciation rang clearly and textual content emerged tellingly. Herrera and the Armadillo Quartet--violinists Socher and Steven Scharf, violist Raymond Tischer and cellist Ksajikian--lent absorbing partnership.

Left on its own, however, the string ensemble seemed unable to meet the expressive demands of either Schumann’s String Quartet in A minor, Opus 41, No. 1 or Barber’s Adagio from the Quartet, Opus 11 (the Adagio for Strings).

The players apparently could not agree consistently on leadership, balance or even intonation. Ideas insightfully introduced by one member were not brought to fruition by others, and conservatism replaced tension and passion with disappointing results.


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