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Tuesday, June 5, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ridge String Quartet Has Soothing Appeal

The Seattle Symphony Mainly Mozart Series, chamber program with the Ridge String Quartet and members of Soni Ventorum; Meany Theater, last night (festival continues with Symphony concert tomorrow, other events through June 15; 443-4747). Produced in association with the International Chamber Music Series at Meany; sponsored by the Nesholm Family Foundation.

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Many are the philosophers and poets who have likened music to wine: Both have intoxicating properties, both often mellow with age, both are designed for pleasure and connoisseurship.

In the case of the Ridge String Quartet, that analogy is more apt than usual. The quartet is named for Ridge Vineyards, a first-rate California winery located above Cupertino, where the vineyard co-founder (Dave Bennion) raised a musically talented daughter as well as elegant cabernets and zinfandels. That daughter, Christa Bennion Feeney, in turn became a co-founder and first violinist of the Ridge String Quartet, which opened the Seattle Symphony's Mainly Mozart Series last night in Meany Theater.

Fortunately, the musical Ridge can bear comparison with the enological Ridge. The quartet members provided warm and spirited music-making in last night's concert, joining members of the University of Washington faculty ensemble Soni Ventorum in launching the first Mainly Mozart program to be jointly produced by the UW International Chamber Music Series.

This year's Mainly Mozart has seven programs - three of them chamber events, such as last night's, and four of them symphony concerts. The latter, not surprisingly, are selling more briskly than the former; about 700 listeners came to the 1,200-seat facility last night, but Friday night's orchestral/choral program (featuring the added draw of the beloved Mozart Requiem) is sold out. Tickets remain, however, for all the other programs.

The three chamber events also are designed as a link between the symphony and the university, another reason why UW faculty members have been invited to perform. The two professors heard last night - bassoonist Arthur Grossman and clarinetist William McColl - both acquitted themselves admirably in music of great charm (a Mozart sonata for bassoon and cello, and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, respectively).

The Ridge Quartet (whose members, in addition to Feeney, include violinist Robert Rinehart, violist Maria Lambros and cellist Peter Wyrick) brought sparkling good humor to the Haydn String Quartet No. 50, which emerged in a strongly individualistic performance full of bright colors and contrasts. The work's many surprising twists and turns were exhibited in playing of dash and style.

The spirited playing also extended to the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, where - aside from a few minor synchronization problems - the performance went very smoothly. McColl rather conscientiously kept his clarinet a part of the ensemble, rather than a solo voice; he is a graceful, careful player.

Tomorrow the orchestra takes the stage with three symphonies of Haydn, Schubert and Mozart. The following evening, the Ridge returns with another chamber evening that also includes Schubert's lovely octet.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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