Schoenberg trio highlights a weekend at Marlboro
MARLBORO, Vt. - Marlboro Music is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and a visit this past weekend shows how little has changed here over the decades. Chamber music is still its all-but-exclusive focus, veterans still mix with younger players, ticket prices remain modest, and the halftime refreshments are still lemonade and ginger snaps, and only at Sunday afternoon concerts. (One dollar each.)
One notable change is the expansion of the repertoire under pianists Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida, the current artistic directors. Saturday’s concert opened with Marlboro’s first performance of a string quartet by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel by a group that included violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard String Quartet. If not a work of blazing originality, the quartet demonstrated that Felix’s sister had a sure grasp of musical craftsmanship, and much of the piece had a surprisingly dark and solemn cast.
Mozart’s Piano Trio in E major featured Goode at the piano with two young string players. Here was Marlboro performance style in a microcosm: scrupulous attention to the score, parity among the instruments, and an uncanny sense that every note fell exactly where it should. Quite different was Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet, helmed by cellist Peter Wiley, which featured unusual tempos and phrasing, and the highlighting of odd textural details. Yet despite moments of anguished beauty, the performance never cohered and at times seemed affected.
Oddly, the grief-stricken Shostakovich was followed by Brahms’s winsome “Zigeunerlieder’’ (“Gypsy Songs’’), Op. 103. They were sung by a well-matched vocal quartet and brilliantly accompanied by pianist Lydia Brown. But as a matter of programming it was baffling.
Brown returned on Sunday for a limpid reading of the Schubert song “Auf dem Strom,’’ which set the table for the weekend’s highlight - a phenomenal performance of the Schoenberg String Trio. Like many of the composer’s late 12-tone works, it carries a forbidding reputation. Yet the three performers - violinist Ida Levin, violist Emily Deans, and cellist Gabriel Cabezas - played it with such confidence and so sure a grasp of its dramatic flow that its alleged thorniness disappeared. What was left was a piece of great imagination and almost tragic poignancy and depth.
Wiley returned for the weekend’s closer, the Schubert String Quintet, in a restrained performance that showed astonishing ensemble work, including some of the most impeccable internal balances I have ever heard in the piece.
Marlboro Music continues through the next two weekends.
David Weininger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.