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Marlboro at the Forefront


György Ligeti (file photo)

Musicians from Marlboro bestowed fine spirit upon four woodwind standards, commanding attention, often times piquing curiosity, and sometimes raising uncertainty. Their rock-hard ensemble sound stood at the forefront. And throughout the Sunday afternoon concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum each of the six performers would take on solo roles.

Clearly distinguishing themselves from several underprepared groups previously heard in Calderwood Hall, this incarnation of Musicians from Marlboro satisfied. Further still, most welcome were Ligeti, Beethoven, Barber, and Poulenc favorites. Just how these six would recreate the oft-played picks?

György Ligeti’s time-tested Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet dating from 1953 received a showering of sonority from MfM. The opening Allegro con spirito was just that, all four notes—a major triad turning minor—rocketed off in a way that you would never have thought that’s all the pitches there were. A tiny bluesy bend and a late bassoon note to end that little piece brought chuckles.

The dissonances in the Rubato: Lamentoso first tantalized the eardrums through miraculous tuning. And such would reappear in ensuing movements, never ever to be feared by these unusually aurally perceptive wind instrument music makers. Duets in Allegro grazioso replaced soloing impeccably. MfM’s uncommonly directed dirge feel for In memoriam Béla Bartók shifting to Stravinsky rhythmic pestering in the concluding Capriccio drew out neat substances that often go by the boards.

Beethoven early Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, Op. 16 (1796) surfaced with the composer’s compositional actions put into view comparable to bas-relief, one might say. Utterly attentive to such a notion, the pianist not always synched up with the finely wrought ensemble of winds. Contrasts would seize the ear while at the same time raise uncertainty as with regards to the organic nature of Beethoven’s writing.

Absolutely enticing delicacies issued forth when the Allegro of the first movement was underway, leaving the ear wanting more and more. The development section opened with some of the finest drama of the afternoon. The Andante cantabile forms early around the piano. Its refrain is echoed in the winds, which had a real bead on the lyricism. The pianist flirted a bit too much with phrasing, faster notes, turns, often leaping out of context. The switch to minor modes gave the oboe, then bassoon, later on the horn to project an ornamented melody, each player bearing individualism at once alluring and meaningful.  

The closing Rondo came upon the cusp of a Beethovenian banquet, ever so closely did MfM promote this movement.  

Exuberance pervaded Samuel Barber’s Summer Music (1956) and Francis Poulenc’s Sextuor (1932-39), yet neither took concrete stances that would set off Musicians from Marlboro into their own performance sphere. Stoutness and robustness surely could not be missed. Moments of lovely lyricism kept on coming but in the end could not provide that right amount of the other side of dynamic range.    

I loved Mary Lynch’s oboe that sang sensitively with tonal splendor, and I loved Brad Balliett’s indisputably watchful instincts toward unearthing musical character via his bassoon. The other fine members were Marina Piccinini, flute, Michael Rusinek, clarinet, Wei-Ping Chou, horn, and Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano, all of whom offered sparkling gems throughout the program.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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