Lazarof's music is hard to classify, but worth it

March 25, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Henri Lazarof is a composer whose name always rings a bell, but whose music is rarely played. The music of Lazarof, who was born in Bulgaria and who completed his training in Israel, Italy and country, does not belong to any discernible national or stylistic school. He has taught for almost 30 years at the University of California at Los Angeles, once the home of Arnold Schoenberg, but Lazarof's individual music cannot be pigeon-holed as serialist. The music is thorny -- as a performance of his "Concertante II" (1988) yesterday evening at the College of Notre Dame by the Washington-based American Camerata for New Music reminded one -- but it is also witty, if rather cold, and beautifully organized.

"Concertante II" is in three movements and scored for piano, violin, cello, bass, oboe, clarinet, flute and percussion. The first movement began and ended with a passage in quarter tones by the oboe (beautifully played by James Ostryniec) that strangely but affectingly recalled that for English Horn in Wagner's "Tristan." The use of color was masterly -- the oboe was followed by plucked piano strings, chimes and winds, which were later joined by the strings. A motoric second movement was followed by one that began and ended with simplicity and elegance (a beautiful melody for violin and cello) that recalled the first movement.

The performance of the Lazarof -- which was conducted by the American Camerata's music director, John Stephens -- was excellent, as were those of the two other works on the program. Haskell Small's "Phoenix" (1986) did not seem, however, to be much more than an agreeable piece of fluff. This duo for flute (Virginia Nanzetta) and violin (Joel Berman) rises and dies -- only to rise again -- from a rather genial figure that recalled Appalachian music. The program ended with Prokofiev's wonderful, but neglected, 1924 Quintet for two violins, bass, clarinet and oboe.

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