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Uchida Dispatches Her Finest from Vermont


Peter Wiley, cellist and tour guide (file photo)
Peter Wiley, cellist and tour guide (file photo)

On a beautiful afternoon with blooming daffodils begging us to stroll around the grounds, an equal display of beauty could be heard inside the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum’s Calderwood Hall. As part of the Sunday Concert Series, Musicians from Marlboro visited to share some classics by Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart. Maintaining the core of a string quartet, additional players rotated in, amplifying the style of each composer and giving a wider experience for the listener.

Marlboro teams together emerging professionals with more established players for performances of well-known and underperformed chamber works. The festival has provided a platform for many rising stars; numerous participants have joined or founded some of the world’s most esteemed chamber groups, such as the Tokyo, Julliard and Emerson Quartets. Each year Artistic Director Mitsuko Uchida chooses a gem from the previous summer as the focal point of the each concert and then builds a program around that. Coming from both American coasts and Europe, Sunday’s virtuosi, who bring both solo and orchestral experience, already possess rather lengthy bios.

Leading off with Beethoven Sextet in E-flat Major, Op. 81b for string quartet and two horns, the performers immediately set the mood with sensitivity and precision. Structured like a concerto for two horns with a string quartet accompaniment, the piece’s Classical formal architecture was more than amenable to the sextet’s effortless tour.

Almost immediately, the players’ lively personalities were on full display. First violinist David McCarroll expressed his body like a wide-swinging pendulum, moving with a dancelike energy. Second violinist Itamar Zorman’s careful attention and sense of play supported his extroversion. Cellist Peter Wiley brought a sterner manner, a reserved, if cagey, nonchalance—an introverted contrast to the others.
While there were a few slippages in Patrick Pridemore’s lower horn part, the two hornists maintained remarkable consistency of tone through the virtuosic passages. Wei-ping Chou’s timbral and technical perfection shone especially; she is the first horn player to earn an Artist’s Diploma from Julliard. The exposition of the first movement featured some rapid hunting calls and exciting scalar passages, with more lyrical bouts in the development and second movement. While the strings maintained a unified counterpoint to the horns’ prominent soloistic music, they gave a taste of their lyrical aptitude.

My favorite moment came towards the end of the Rondo. Instead of the separation between horns and strings, Beethoven combined the cello and low horn, putting them at unison in a descending line, denoting a special moment as the work closed.

Reentering without the horns, the strings transformed the atmosphere with their interpretation Brahms’s Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1, bringing the composer’s orchestrational notions to dazzling heights. With exceptional attention to timbre, and employing specific colorations for varied textures, and the instruments coalesced.

In an assuredly Romantic style, the quartet carried the music horizontally, always moving forward and carrying momentum. Instead of overly lush or self-expressive exaggerations, they precisely communicated the Brahms’s intricacies: the syncopations, motivic relations, etc. Wiley came out of his shell, moving move more than before, with captivating, expression, especially in the rising melodic theme in his low register. With him there, was the warmth of Hélène Clément’s viola.

Brahms’s system of developing variation gave a remarkable payoff in the last movement, reorganizing and layering recognizable musical motives and textures from what proceeded. The movement conjured a vibrant chaos. Perhaps the most transcendental moment came when all four parts rose to a high register, departing from the work’s widely spaced counterpoint. This brief shimmering melted into repose after a desperate, tumultuous sequence, and before spurting back to chaos.  
After the drama and sophistication of Brahms, the ensemble admirably kept up the interest and excitement with Mozart’s more straight-forward Divertimento No. 11 in D Major, K. 251. Despite divertimenti’s (derived from the Italian word ‘to amuse’) function as light-hearted music for social gatherings, the performers maintained intensity and momentum even though the music has less drama.

Even after swelling to eight, the ensemble maintained a crisp sound, stringing together phrases with direction and precision. The Mozart succeeded largely thanks to Mary Lynch’s oboe. After the boldness of horns, and the robust Romantic incarnation of a string quartet, her tonal clarity and levity brought a new energy. Zorman moved to first violin; the two of them lead brilliantly, often doubling or playing call and response. The incredible tone, in conjunction with Mozart’s brilliant melodic craftsmanship, made for easy and captivating listening.

Musicians From Marlboro made a strong impression, with most of the nearly sold-out audience rising at the end.

Nate Shaffer is a pianist, composer and improviser, currently studying at Brandeis University. He’s an avid barbershop singer, a member of local men’s chorus Vocal Revolution, and can be seen performing regularly as a pianist at ImprovBoston.

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