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Vellinger Strings in Knowing Balance

With no gimmicks in either repertory or presentation, the Vellinger String Quartet doesn’t seem likely to create much of a stir among the crossover crowd. But it has all the makings of stardom in the purist’s firmament--most important, an astonishingly pristine balance of individual identity within a framework of flawless ensemble--as it demonstrated for the Da Camera Society Friday at the Doheny Mansion.

The young British group, back a year after its Los Angeles debut, offered a strong, unhackneyed program--foundational pillars in E-flat from Haydn and Mozart framing that great arch of aches, Bartok’s Quartet No. 5. In this canny context, Bartok’s knowing riffs on the string ensemble traditions embodied by the Haydn and Mozart works emerged with clarity and power.

Not that the Vellingers did anything to minimize its fierce originality. Violinists Stephanie Gonley and Harvey de Souza, violist James Boyd and cellist Sally Pendlebury produce an orchestral range of instrumental sound and color, deployed with an energized sense of rhythm at any tempo. Their Bartok was a tour de force of expressive unity, controlled in conception and bold in execution.

Their cross-referential Haydn (Opus 71, No. 3) and Mozart (K. 428) were no less impressive, alert to the nuances of both personal and period styles. The level of perfection slackened a bit in the Mozart; following a miraculously rapt Andante, the last two usually bumptious movements of this most Haydnesque of Mozart’s quartets sounded surprisingly subdued.

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In encore the ensemble gave an intense reading of a searingly chromatic Purcell Fantasia. With an iron no-vibrato discipline only occasionally broken on the cello, the Vellingers managed to sound like one of the best period consorts, uncompromising in linear rigor and harmonic clarity.


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