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Music Reviews : Stanford Quartet Impresses in Palisades

The Stanford String Quartet, which returned to Southern California this week courtesy of the Music at St. Matthews series, is not the same ensemble heard here three times in the past decade.

Two of its players--violinist Phillip Levy and violist Benjamin Simon--are new to us. Violinist Susan Freier joined the group in 1990, and cellist Stephen Harrison is an original member from the founding of the Quartet at Stanford University in 1983.

Yet this may be the most accomplished, technically solid and musically balanced of the several player-combinations the quartet has operated with in the past 12 years. The ensemble showed its virtues with admirable effortlessness and abundant confidence in the welcoming acoustic at the Pacific Palisades church Thursday night.

At the climax of this evening was the most impressive playing, in Beethoven’s A-minor Quartet, Opus 132. A followable continuity of feeling and musical ascent here characterized the progress of this complex work; the meeting of mechanical challenges, the balancing of resources and a revealing articulation all proved reliable ingredients in a satisfying performance.

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More glib and less probing was the group’s polished account of Mozart’s “Dissonant” Quartet, K. 465, a reading so neat it seemed as if its edges had been sanded down. The flattering sound in the high-ceilinged sanctuary also tended to flatten musical points.

The program began with a perfectly, appropriately lush performance of Webern’s haunting “Langsamer Satz” (1905).


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