MUSIC REVIEW : American String Quartet Overcomes Distractions

Sometimes it's stentorian coughers in the audience, or a wobbly chair on stage; at others, intrusive street noises or, in this part of the world, an upheaval of nature.

On Wednesday in the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, the unwelcome competition to the music at the final concert of the American String Quartet's current round of Southland appearances came from a garrulous impresario, pitching his next Music Guild season with a barrage of self-congratulation, condescension and paternalism, climaxed by assurances that all that 20th-Century music on the agenda wasn't as nasty as it looked.

Hecklers, bad boys and girls in the audience, failed to curb the recitation, which lasted as long (but with less interesting modulations) as the opening musical selection, Haydn's delectably deep and willful Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2, marked by first violinist Peter Winograd's incisive sweetness of tone and pointed rhythms, nimbly supported by fellow fiddler Laurie Carney, violist Daniel Avshalomov and cellist David Geber.

There was welcome brightness, too--but no lack of intensity--in the New York-based group's exploration of the Beethoven Quartet in B flat, Op. 130, with its jaunty second ending rather than the vast fugal original. An interpretation marked by the keenest internal balances, exposing the score's lyric heart.

And then came cutting-loose time, with the amiable discursiveness of the G-major Sextet of Brahms, in which the Americans pulled out the sonorous stops with the estimable aid of violist Brian Dembow and cellist Stephen Erdody, both on loan from the Angeles Quartet.

The lateness of the hour notwithstanding, Brahms provided affirmation, as had Haydn and Beethoven earlier on, of the power of music over gratuitous talk.

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