in: Reviews

November 9, 2009

Five Musicians from Marlboro in Amazing Mozart and Messiaen

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Musicians from Marlboro, the touring extension of the renowned Marboro Music Festival in Vermont, offers exceptional young musicians from the summer Festival together with seasoned artists in chamber music programs of rarely heard works and masterpieces. On Sunday November 8, five young musicians played in the Tapestry Room of the Gardner Museum.

Flutist Joshua Smith, violinist Soovin Kim, violist Beth Guterman and cellist Michal Korman rendered the Viennese entertainment music of Mozart, his Flute Quartet in C Major, K. 285b, just perfectly. You could not ask for more and, in fact, they did more than you probably would have asked for.

Their spunky, teasing performance had everything going for it and it could not have been more entertaining. Smith’s magic flute frolicked and sighed, breathed in tender moments and broke out with brilliance at others. His is a luxurious yet reserved tone always moving from a very balanced center, never assertive, never shy. The whole ensemble took this Mozart on the “funnest” of rides, rolling along from the faintest most delicate of sounds to the fullest most robust, indeed a great range that thoroughly enlivened this tongue-in-cheek amusement beyond expectation. Not a note went by without one of these Musicians from Marlboro beaming this or that entry in the score, whether a melody, a repeated note for accompaniment, or just a single point at the cadence. Sheer joy made its way through every one of their instruments. The sold-out room went for it from what I could tell.

Then an unusual stroke of programming saw all five musicians on stage for the next three pieces, which were to be played as a set. All three composers, flutist Joshua Smith informed us, shared an affinity for Debussy’s music, color, atmosphere and nature.

Mirrors by Finnish-born and Paris-trained Kaija Saariaho called for whispered words. Smith translated them for us in advance of the hearing: “Clear, brilliant, unsmudged, he sees himself and the love of his lady.” For years, Saariaho has been combining live music and electronics, with IRCAM in Paris being the center of her exploration. Michal Korman and Joshua Smith went far beyond the existentialist content of the six-or-so-minute duet that predictably consisted of the usual start-and-stop, now-slow-now-fast continuity we have all come to know from last century’s serialist composers, in particular. Amazing sounds came from the flute and cello, none were noises, all were fantastic vibrations, nuanced imaginatively, articulated in oddly compelling ways. Their soundings at times seemed to have emanated from an electronic source, but here, and very importantly, theirs were sounds made with the human touch.

Somewhat slower music followed with A Bird Came Down the Walk by the late T?ru Takemitsu, Japanese composer of over 100 film scores. Shades of Debussy, Messiaen and nature appeared in this physical environment. Not much else happened. Beth Guterman’s viola and Renana Gutman’s piano, anchored in precision, avoided poetic images heard in other performances of this eclectic landscape. The ending in a clear major mode looking to the past for expression did find beauty and eventual rest.

Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus, (“Praise to the immortality of Jesus”), the last movement from the metaphysical Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the End of Time”) by French master Oliver Messiaen is one of several of his compositions that have become well-known and very much loved. In this very slowly moving 32-bar eulogy with its incessant short-long patterned piano accompaniment supporting a singing, soaring violin, violinist Soovin Kim kept near inhuman focus. His playing was flawless (except for one ever-so-minute bowing pressure mistake). It was breathtakingly concentrated. Glimpses of paradise were felt. Pianist Renana Gutman was also in total control. Their performance was out of this world. The audience responded naturally by holding their applause until all three had been performed.

Meaning in the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60 by German Romantic Johannes Brahms became craft-centered. The composer’s soothing ah-ahhs became harsh ah-eeks! Save for the second movement, which began to percolate, a rigid interpretation lacking emotion and expression was all I could sense through their determined, disciplined efforts and precise playing.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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