MUSIC REVIEW : Southwest Chamber Society Plays at Huntington Loggia

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Location, location, location! In real estate it’s said to be what ultimately determines the value of the property.

And in respect to location--at least during the summer--the Southwest Chamber Music Society’s concerts certainly have it, the Loggia of the Huntington Library’s main gallery: magnificent visually and less predictable, considering its open-air exposure, acoustically. A magnificent place to be at sunset on Saturday, when the Southwest musicians began to project the twilight moods and colors of Amy Beach’s Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet, completed in 1920.

The piece does, however, have a turn-of-the-century feel: not a reflection of cozy Victoriana, but of a certain harmonic and emotional restlessness. The spirit of Mahler is brought to mind in the highly chromatic waltz variation, but Mahler more in a wistful than bared-teeth mood. There are suggestions, too, of Delius’ Orientalism, but toughened by Beach into something less gauzy, more invasive.


The Southwest String Quartet--violinists Peter Marsh and Susan Jensen, violist Jan Karlin, cellist Leighton Fong--and particularly the flutist, Dorothy Stone, projected the work’s half-lights sensitively and, when required, spiritedly.

Nor was there any lack of spirit in the presentation of Elgar’s roughly contemporaneous but more backward-looking Sonata in E minor for Violin and Piano. Its first movement labors mightily to achieve the sound and quality of reject Brahms, whereas the second promises Elgar in his appealing salon vein but fails to deliver the expected knockout melody. In the diffuse finale, we’re back to mock-Brahmsian heroics.

The performance by Peter Marsh and the commanding pianist, Susan Svrcek, was clearly a labor of love, gaining cohesiveness as it progressed to the finale, which found the two artists in balanced, mutually enhancing communication.

Still, one had to wonder why their efforts weren’t expended on the real thing, Brahms.

The familiar work on the program was Borodin’s usually gracious and endearing String Quartet in D, on this occasion a dead loss as a consequence of Marsh’s inability to find the intonational handle for the duration of the opening movement.

Things may have gotten better thereafter, but the damage to Borodin and to this listener’s sensibilities had been done.