The third annual Chamber Music Series at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art opened Friday with a stimulating and frequently frustrating program.
Five principal players of the Pacific Symphony, along with pianist John Novacek, presented energetic readings of works by Bruch, Ravel and Mozart, though they could not always agree on appropriate sound or musical intent. Instead, they often battled for leadership.
Clarinetist James Kanter insisted on his convivial way during Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K.581--unhurried and sure, as if reacquainting himself with an old friend. Meanwhile, concertmaster Sheryl Staples held technically secure, but earthbound, leadership to a group completed by second violinist Amy Sims, violist Robert Becker and cellist Timothy Landauer.
Eventually, Staples did capitulate to Kanter and permitted the last movement to coalesce in good-natured grace.
Similar lack of unity disturbed Ravel's Piano Trio, which Staples attacked with icy determination, while Landauer answered in warm-toned ardor. Novacek, who often joins the pair to perform trio literature, mediated through light washes of rich harmonies balanced by a powerful drive.
Four selections from Bruch's Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Opus 83, had begun the evening promisingly, with dark-hued and passionate readings by Kanter, Becker and Novacek.
The musicians reordered their choices, ending the set with virtuosic flash rather than the composer's moderately paced, ever-yearning conclusion.