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April 10, 2001

Season Closes with Gracious Genius

A Review by Pat Pinson

Mobile Chamber Music Society has had three impressive string performances to close out their season. The String Orchestra Kremlin was an outstanding group of young musicians who played together incredibly well - you read Frank Clark's review of their performance. Then the Manhattan String Quartet on March 12 and the Langroise Trio on April 1 wound down a season of good music making in a chamber setting.

The Manhattan Quartet opened with Haydn Op. 33 #3, the Birds quartet which uses natural and everyday sounds like he does in many other of his works. (John Cage must have liked Haydn.) A lot of Haydn works have programmatic titles - remember the Clock, Toy, and Surprise Symphonies where he used the tick-tock, toy instruments, or a crashing chord? Well, in the first movement of this quartet, the upper instruments take on a twittering nature, but somehow he always contains the sound effects and makes them an integral part of the texture and structure. The only disconcerting element in this avian movement was the cellist allowing his instrument to resonate beyond cutoffs so that sometimes it even created a discord as the upper strings moved on.

Shostakovich Quartet No. 13 was written for the violist of the Russian Beethoven Quartet and features this instrument throughout. The viola has the haunting opening and closing of the work and is pushed it to its upper limits in pitch. Violist John Dexter performed this work with the relish and candor of a fine musician showing what his instrument can do. The encore Second Movement of the Debussy Quartet was especially lush and quiet and full of many shades and nuances. Beautiful performance.

The final concert of the season was by the Langroise String Trio comprised of artists in residence and teachers at Albertson College in Idaho. The three, including a Scot and an Icelander, introduced each of the works and seemed to enjoy playing together through their banter at one point in the program. String trios are more transparent than quartets and the repertoire is not heard as much. Besides a Beethoven Trio which had an unusual ending, they played a programmatic work by a contemporary Idaho composer, Jim Cockey and one by Taniev, a Russian composer who is basically post Romantic.

Striking in all of these works was the well-matched tone to go along with the balanced writing for the three instruments. You notice the viola more because it can move so easily from playing with the violin to the deeper tones of the cello range. No one instrument dominated in these works as often occurs in quartets, nor did a performer. This Trio, while not as well known as many chamber groups, represents what chamber music is meant to be -- a more informal gathering of people who love music, in a small hall, sitting close to the performers and listening to beautiful music. Bernheim Hall has the size and acoustics (although it could have more comfortable seats) for these Sunday afternoon soirees. The series and the hall are admirably suited for the fine professional ensembles who make up the season. The Langroise was a delightful conclusion to a typically professional season.

And with this concert, our season closes along with the Harbinger. Looking back over three years of covering Mobile performing arts, some facts hit home. Mobile has a balanced arts community -- 2 community theaters, an orchestra, an opera organization, dance performances, and a chamber society -- with something for everybody, from amateur productions done with professional guidance, to world class professionals performing for all of us. And look at the accomplishments in the last 3 years -- a more independent opera organization with some outside vocal and staging stars coming regularly, theater that is invited to perform in national events, consistently strong chamber artists, a conductor and a home for the symphony.

There are many people in the community who are working their hearts out to enhance our lives with beauty and deeper thought. Bravo to Mobile arts and artists -- you have come far in the three years that we have been acquainted with you. May the coming years be as fulfilling as these have been.


The Harbinger