Eight Musicians from Marlboro played tonight at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the 37th International Festival of Chamber Music. The group is the touring extension of the famed Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont and although the players are young, they have each won many awards and have well established music careers. With all that going for them, the large crowd was able to sit back and bask in the exceptional music making.
Violinists Miho Saegusa and Jessica Lee, violist Mark Holloway and cellist Na-Young Back began with Janacek’s melodramatic and quirky Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” (1923). The players were impassioned with much physically emotive gestures in the unusual work. In some ways, the music was suitable for one of those 1940s noir flicks with the furious tremolos on harmonics, raucous or wildly soaring passages interwoven with dramatic lyrical bars. Tempos went from slow to fast and back several times over a wide variety of color and minor modes.
The third movement especially went between slow evocative lines to what sounded like a swarm of mad bees. It was very unsettling. The music seethed like a volcano. The fourth movement, too, was like a cauldron of anxiety and pain. The quartet played the heck out of the piece.
Lee, violinist Yonah Zur, violists Maiya Papach and Scott St. John and cellist Susan Babini contrasted that work with Mozart’s charmingly cheerful Quintet in E-flat Major written in the last year of his life (1791). The musicians were well matched and played with clear tones that etched the lines with precision and vivacity.
Mozart started the work with a hunting motif from the two violas that was passed around in a playful way. He used a kind of theme and variations in the second movement but not in a serious way and the trio of his minuet had a lovely Austrian ländler folk dance.
Everyone played with great finesse in Mendelssohn’s marvelously buoyant Octet in E-flat Major (1825). Led with passion by St. John on violin, the octet produced a big volume of sound that gave a sweep to the musical line. St. John had the lead melodic line but everyone supported him with a strong balance, perfect pitch, and a sensitive ear to possible nuances. Tempos were well paced with a strong propulsive drive in the quick movements. The slower sections were done with great care and delicate dynamic levels.