Vermont Festival's Southern Exposure

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A hint of New England summer was in the air Thursday night as some of the best chamber music performances from Vermont's Marlboro Music Festival were reprised at the Freer Gallery of Art. At Marlboro, seasoned musicians and their younger counterparts spend the summer rehearsing and performing together, and both benefit from the exchange of energy and ideas.

Peter Stumpf, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's principal cellist, partnered with the young violinist Augustin Hadelich in an outstanding performance of Zoltán Kodály's Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7. Hadelich channeled the folk music embedded in the score from Kodály's research in the Hungarian countryside through reedy, dark-chocolate G-string sounds, blue notes and atonal bends and swoops. Each statement was answered by Stumpf's cello in a dialogue that traded irregularly metered melodies and accompaniment figures evoking the cimbalom and folk percussion.

Karina Canellakis took the first chair to Hadelich's second for a lighthearted performance of Haydn's E-flat string quartet (Op. 64, No. 6); compared with Hadelich, she seemed a little polite, although her technique was just as polished. Rather than Haydn assimilating Hungarian folk music in his own way, as found in some of his other quartets, this is the Haydn of the classical salon, with clever manipulation of the forms and masterful quasi-baroque counterpoint, suspensions and harmonic daring.

In Brahms's autumnal clarinet quintet, Op. 115, Romie de Guise-Langlois's instrument was suave in the low register and whisperingly transparent on the roulades in the middle section of the slow movement, although she took a couple of mid-slur breaths. In the best spirit of chamber music, less important parts receded into the murky depths of the work to reveal principal voices, and miscues, such as at the very end of the first movement, were rare. Occasionally, when the clarinet played in unison with Hadelich's first violin or another of the instruments, slightly strident intonation detracted from the ensemble. It was a turbulent version of Brahms, making the return of the first movement's main theme of longing at the end of the last-movement variations particularly poignant.

-- Charles T. Downey

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