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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Marlboro Music Festival. 50th Anniversary Album
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Three Marches for Piano, Four Hands Op 45
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

String Quartet in E minor
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

String Quartet in A minor Op 13
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Divertimento for String Orchestra
György KURTÁG (b 1926)

Quintet for Winds Op 2
Hommage à Mihály András (12 Microludes for string quartet)
György LIGETI (b 1923)

String Quartet No 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes)
Beethoven: Cécile Licad and Mieczysław Horszowski (pianos) 1979

Verdi: Pina Carmirelli and Endré Granat, (violins) Martha Strongin Katz (viola) and Ronald Leonard (cello) 1969
Schubert: Benita Valente (soprano), Harold Wright (clarinet) and Rudolf Serkin (piano) 1969
Mendelssohn: Lisa-Beth Lambert and Hiroko Yajima (violins), Annemarie Moorcroft (viola) and Sophie Shao (cello) 1995
Bartók: The Marlboro Festival Strings/Sándor Végh. 1974
Kurtág: Quintet; Tanya Dusevic, (flute) Rudolph Vrbsky (oboe) Michael Rusinek (clarinet) Marc Goldberg (bassoon) and Sarah Dussing (horn) 1997
Kurtág: Hommage; Robert Waters and Catherine Szepes (violins), Jessica Troy (viola) and Siegfried Palm (cello) 1997
Ligeti: Soovim Kim and Catherine Cho (violins), Kirsten Johnson (viola) and Siegfried Palm (cello) 1996
BRIDGE 9108 [2 CDs: 146.57]



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Recordings from the Marlboro Festival have been made since 1957 when CBS first took its recording equipment to the Summer Festival in Vermont. The Busch-Serkin-Moyse institution, founded in 1951, has always been notable for the distinction of the many émigré musicians associated with it – from the trio of founders, through Casals – whose orchestral recordings of the 1960s and 70s were so popular – to Serkin, Végh, Schneider and the many quartets and chamber groups, established and ad hoc, that have sojourned there. To celebrate the fiftieth Anniversary Bridge issued this two CD set of performances given between 1969 (the Schubert with Valente, Wright and Serkin) and 1997 (the two Kurtág works). This, I suppose, embodies a Marlboro aesthetic, older artists working alongside younger, canonical works programmed with challenging contemporary repertoire. The booklet manages to capture some of these decisive virtues with a delicious series of photographs – Casals, with pipe and black umbrella looking every inch the Grand Seigneur, the comic duo of Sasha Schneider and Rudolf Serkin, the former dishevelled and wavy hair untamed, the latter besuited and owlishly amused, and Sándor Végh conducting the chamber orchestra, his arms outstretched like some huge force of nature trying to envelop the universe.

The programme begins with Beethoven’s avuncular Marches played by Cécile Licad and Mieczysław Horszowski, the latter four times the former’s age. Youth and experience conjoin in chamber parity, in a performance full of bite and swing. The highly experienced Italian violinist Pina Carmirelli leads the performance of the Verdi Quartet and a fine tonal blend is immediately established in the opening Allegro. The quartet find a good basic tempo for the Andantino, relaxing delightfully into the slower section, and take the Prestissimo movement very quickly but maintaining clarity of articulation – and displaying collective wit in the tricky pizzicati passage. All four are on fine form in the imposing fugal finale. Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is sensitively done, albeit Benita Valente sometimes forces her voice, and Mendelssohn’s Quartet – in a tape dating from 1995 – has an especially attractive dynamic shaping to it in this performance. The sense of lofty delicacy engendered in the Presto finale is very welcome and the reappearance of the expressive Adagio’s material in the finale is executed with care and with refinement.

The second disc is an all-Hungarian affair, Bartók, Kurtág and Ligeti. Végh directs a towering performance of the Divertimento. Bite and drive animate the Allegro first movement, galvanizing pizzicati surging the musical argument forward. Equally the reduced terracing of dynamics and the withdrawn intensity of the central slow movement are palpable and the folk vitality and vivacity of the finale full of lift and life – the sense of contoured onrush seismic. The Marlboro Festival Strings shine throughout. Kurtág’s short, nine-minute Quintet is full of contrasts. In the fourth movement, a little molto sostenuto, the horn remains implacable whilst oscillatory frivolity surrounds it and in the Grave a compact mordancy is established with extraordinary precision (it lasts a mere forty-five seconds). The Hommage à Mihály András, subtitled 12 Microludes for String Quartet, is by turns intense, withdrawn and lyrical (the fifth is of exquisite beauty). By the time we reach the tenth of these spectrally short pieces (the whole work plays for barely ten minutes) the writing has become frantically agitated followed immediately by the blanched reflectiveness of the penultimate Microlude and the quizzical poetry of the last. To finish the programme there is Ligeti’s First Quartet, a marvellous and substantial achievement of some twenty-two minutes’ length. Vivid and frantically motoric this one movement work (Metamorphoses nocturnes is the sub-title) begins with powerful instrumental and motivic urgency. Swiftly though it relaxes into becalmed stasis before renewed power and an air of neo-classicist vigour imparts that mobility, the effortless spirit of mutability and changeability that animates the whole work. Around 11.50 a mordant, pizzicato-activated drunken episode breaks in soon to give way to the keening of the solo violin over a drone accompaniment. This whole episode is saturated in nostalgic village memories one feels before the off-beat pizzicati impart an increasingly whimsical profile to the direction of the music. After this ceaseless activity and change the cello becomes increasingly ruminative and all four instruments slowly but inexorably conjoin in a profoundly interior close, bringing the work to a satisfying intellectual and expressive end. The quartet of Kim, Cho, Johnson and Palm are highly impressive here.

An admirable salute then to Marlboro, enshrining some generous performances, spiced with rigour and prescient intellectual sinew, all of which one associates, in the very best sense, with the Vermont festival.

Jonathan Woolf



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