Musicians from Marlboro at the Freer Gallery
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 05:32PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • December 12, 2008

The annual “Musicians from Marlboro” concerts at the Freer Gallery are among the most invigorating events of the classical season. Dozens of astoundingly gifted young virtuosos, all hand-picked from the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, blow into the gallery’s Meyer Auditorium every winter for three performances that radiate vitality and freshness – qualities sometimes missing from their more seasoned elders.

And so it was on Wednesday night, when the first installment of Marlborians opened the series with Leos Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1 ("Kreutzer Sonata").  It’s an almost brutally passionate work that, played well, will take the skin off your ears, and the players turned in a suitably hot-blooded performance.  It was, perhaps, a bit too hot-blooded at times -- its emotions spelled out in capital letters, then underlined, then italicized.  But even if the excesses swept away the subtleties here and there, this was playing of daring, conviction and real insight.  You could do worse.

The tireless Jessica Lee, who had played second fiddle in the Janacek, took the lead with a new crew of players for Mozart’s String Quintet in E flat Major, K. 614.  Elegant and fiendishly difficult, it’s not as drop-dead beautiful as Mozart’s earlier quintets, but the players brought out the complex polyphony with clarity and grace.  More engaging was Mendelssohn’s lush Octet in E flat Major, Opus 20, which violinist Scott St. John led in grand Romantic style.  Impeccable ensemble work, unbridled energy and boatloads of virtuosity produced an electrifying performance – and whetted appetites for the next Marlboro concert in February.

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