The Marlboro Music Festival, held each summer in Vermont, brings together elite young musicians from around the world for intensive study of the chamber music repertoire. Each ensemble has one veteran player/coach taking part, and assigned works are studied for however long they take to jell. Marlboro then sends its best groups on tour during the winter season, and for some time, the Freer Gallery of Art has presented several Music From Marlboro programs each year. Wednesday evening was the first of the season’s three concerts, and it easily met the high standards we expect.
Anchored by violinist Scott St. John, the musicians presented piano trios by Beethoven and Fauré, and string quartets by Thomas Adès and Mendelssohn. The latter were more successful because they included the two most-interesting players, violinist Michelle Ross and violist Emily Deans. In the trios, St. John, cellist Matthew Zalkind and pianist Gabriele Carcano played the notes well and often produced music of zest and passion. But while Carcano displayed sparkling-clean finger work and never covered his colleagues (even with a full concert grand with the lid fully raised), neither of the string players has a particularly expressive sound, especially at the softer dynamics.
The Adès work, “Arcadiana,” is a seven-movement pastiche of water-inspired material — from a Watteau painting, the mythical River of Oblivion, etc. The spirit of Benjamin Britten hangs over the piece, though it goes quite a bit beyond in its use of sound effects (glissandos are a favorite) and rhythmic complexity. The work was hard to make sense of purely as music, and we needed several nudges from the performers to grasp that it had ended.
The most enjoyable performance was the Mendelssohn E minor quartet at the end. St. John did more good from the second violin chair than he did when leading the other groups, and Ross delivered playing of bracing intensity. But the true excitement was how well the group handled the soft passages; it was a perfect ensemble, even at the fastest tempos, and there was a sense of tightly coiled tension, which made the outbursts effective as all get-out.
Battey is a freelance writer.