Musicians from Marlboro sails smoothly after unbalanced start

It is unfortunate but not surprising that the Mozart String Quintet, K. 515, that opened the Musicians from Marlboro program at the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium on Thursday never really came across as a team effort. Violinist Lucy Chapman, an enormously experienced and powerful chamber player, was a last-minute stand-in for the violinist the group had rehearsed with and, together with equally seasoned cellist Judith Serkin, the two dominated the ensemble.

One listened in vain for the darker, fuller sound the extra viola was intended to provide, but the overly modest restraint of the younger members of the ensemble, violists Yura Lee and Beth Guterman and violinist Benjamin Beilman, made this performance a two-person show.

By the time the Dvorak E-flat Quintet rolled around, however, the imbalances had been attended to. Lee and Guterman had found new heart. Beilman, now as first violinist, rose to the occasion and the group offered a reading of this big, luscious piece that was as compelling in its lyricism as it was in its rhythmic incisiveness. The hair-trigger timing of the last movement’s interplay between violin and violas was terrific, with never a hitch in its momentum.

In between the Mozart and the Dvorak, perhaps as a palate cleanser, was an early Haydn Quartet (in C Minor, Op. 17, No. 4) so full of ideas, Haydnesque tricks and classical cliches that, at times, it sounded like a catalogue of the idiom. Here the first violin is supposed to monopolize the spotlight, and Chapman did this with wonderful imagination and a sense of humor. She underscored the vocal quality of the third movement Andante Cantabile with just a touch of slide to the top of long lines and, where Haydn wanted emphatic exclamations, landed with thudding weight, bringing the rest of the ensemble with her.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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