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Live From Marlboro - Respighi, Cuckson, Shostakovich


Release Date: 07/05/2011 
Label:  Marlboro Recording Society   Catalog #: 80002  
Composer:  Ottorino RespighiRobert CucksonDmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Jennifer JohnsonBeth GutermanIda LevinSaeunn Thorsteinsdottir,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

See more Marlboro Festival Recordings from ArkivMusic

LIVE FROM THE MARLBORO MUSIC FESTIVAL Various artists Marlboro Recording Society 80001 (76:55)

MOZART String Quintet in D, K 593. BEETHOVEN Piano Trio in B?, “Archduke.” SCHUBERT Read more class="ARIAL12b">Piano Trio in E?: Andante

LIVE FROM THE MARLBORO MUSIC FESTIVAL Various artists Marlboro Recording Society 80002 (61:44 Text and Translation)

RESPIGHI Il Tramonto. CUCKSON The Spirit of the Storm. SHOSTAKOVICH Songs from Jewish Folk Poetry, op. 79

LIVE FROM THE MARLBORO MUSIC FESTIVAL Various artists Marlboro Recording Society 80003 (63:34)

DEBUSSY String Quartet. RAVEL Introduction and Allegro. String Quartet

I considered putting myself out of my misery when I realized how long it was going to take me to complete this headnote. Then I remembered how much I have enjoyed performances from the Marlboro Music Festival in the past, and I decided to hang on for at least a little while longer. After hearing these three discs, I am glad I did!

The Marlboro Music Festival, located at Marlboro College in Vermont, has been in existence for 60 years. It was founded by several eminent musicians of the era, namely Rudolf Serkin; Adolf and Hermann Busch; and Marcel Blanche, and Louis Moyse. Since its foundation, it has been a place for musicians to come together and explore repertoire, and each other, far from the usual distractions. Currently directed by pianists Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida, it also is a place for established musicians to mentor younger ones. One often reads about Marlboro’s supportive, family-like atmosphere; it is like a summer camp in which the elder “counselors,” although respected and revered, are the younger musicians’ equals. Much music is played, but primarily for the benefit of the musicians, and secondarily for that of audiences. (Concert programs are determined only a week or so ahead of time, giving the musicians uncommon freedom and the ability to experiment.)

For many years, Columbia Records brought its recording equipment to Marlboro. Many of those recordings remain in print even today, and remain, if not definitive, then at least highly competitive; they never really disappoint. The festival also had its own LP label, with many more performances released that way. In the CD era, new recordings became infrequent, and so it is delightful to see that the festival has teamed up with ArkivMusic to release a new series of live recordings. These are the first three; perhaps more will follow?

I’ve heard most of the recordings originating from the Marlboro Music Festival over the years. One thing I’ve noticed is that the performances are consistently middle-of-the-road, even conservative. However, they are never unimaginative, and certainly never anything less than professional, despite the more relaxed atmosphere under which they were made. Such is the case here. No one should buy these discs expecting to hear a brand-new spin on any of the works performed. These performances are rather like going to a restaurant where the menu is traditional and the chefs, rather than experimenting with new ingredients and techniques, focus their collective attentions on preparing the meals with the utmost mindfulness and integrity.

Who would not be interested to hear Mitsuko Uchida and the Guarneri Quartet’s David Soyer playing Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio and a movement from Schubert’s Second Piano Trio? (This is not to minimize the talents of young violinist Soovin Kim, who has no difficulty keeping up, artistically speaking, with his elder partners.) This “Archduke” is largely serene, possessed of an Olympian calm, and the work’s opportunities for brusque humor are thus downplayed. Uchida gives the performance a central viewpoint without dominating it, and Soyer, who was 83 at the time, provides a firm anchor. I would have preferred to hear the Andante con moto from Schubert’s trio in its proper context—it’s not an appropriate encore, after all—but at the same time, it is wonderful to hear these three musicians performing it, again, with a telling restraint that nevertheless does not shortchange its emotional poignancy. In the Mozart quintet, which opens the disc, Soyer once again gives the younger musicians a solid platform upon which to build the music’s endless charm and invention. The booklet contains a brief tribute to Soyer, who died in 2010, by Uchida. (There is nothing about the music itself in any of the three booklets.) All three performances were recorded in the festival’s Persons Auditorium. The sound is good, if a little recessed. I suspect that the microphones were farther from the musicians than they would have been in a studio, and the barn-like Persons Auditorium comes off as rather cavernous here.

The second disc reminds us that vocal music has not been ignored at Marlboro. However, the works by Ottorino Respighi and Robert Cuckson were recorded not at Marlboro at all, but in Boston’s Gardner Museum. Thus, some might find labeling this disc “Music from Marlboro” a little misleading. (Almost since the inception of the festival, though, it has had a touring program.) Respighi’s Il Tramonto , a setting of a text by Percy Shelley (in an Italian translation), turns up on discs and recitals now and then. Singers as different as Renata Scotto, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Sena Jurinac have recorded it. Mezzo Jennifer Johnson has a lovely, focused voice, but she doesn’t quite succeed in making this 17-minute tone poem for voice and string quartet hang together. (It doesn’t help that the close microphoning of her voice creates an aggressive effect, often dwarfing the strings.) Cuckson’s Der gayst funem shturem was composed while the composer was the festival’s composer-in-residence in 2009. It is a setting of five Yiddish poems by Polish-born poet Binem Heller. Cuckson’s music complements the poems nicely, but I find it in no way distinctive or memorable, and again, Johnson’s singing comes across as larger and more aggressive than it probably really was, thanks to the microphone placement.

The Shostakovich performance dates all the way back to 1967; the sound, however, is excellent. Soprano Benita Valente’s Marlboro recording of Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (Sony) was a treasure, and this performance of Songs from Jewish Folk Themes , in which she is joined by two other singers, is on a similarly high level. (Pianist Luis Battle is a member of the music faculty at Marlboro College.) The (small) fly in the ointment here is that the cycle is performed in German, as the Russian edition apparently was not available in the United States in 1967.

I don’t associate the Marlboro Festival with French repertoire, perhaps because that isn’t what Columbia recorded there, back in the day. The third disc suggests, however, that Ravel and Debussy have been treated as well as the Viennese masters have. Again, two of the performances—the two string quartets—were recorded not in Vermont but at the Gardner Museum. This time around, though, the sound in Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (the most recent Vermont-based performance on these three discs) is quite good, and it is that composer’s Quartet that sounds a little thin and strident. Whether this is because of the performers or the recording itself, I am not sure.

Be that as it may, these clearly are young performers’ views on Debussy and Ravel, Soyer’s presence in the Debussy Quartet notwithstanding. This makes sense, as the works themselves are relatively youthful. The faster movements are played impetuously, and the slower ones, particularly in the Debussy, are made almost sentimental—not a terribly good thing, really. (The printed material commits a howler by twice rendering Debussy’s “Andantino doucement expressif” as “Andantino document expressif”!) The beginning of the Introduction and Allegro is made uncommonly languid, but by the time the work has reached its ecstatic final page, an orgasmic level of energy has been reached. These are not definitive readings—how could any one performance of these works be so? What makes them worthwhile is their excitement, no doubt intensified by the concert settings.

Although the days of Pablo Casals, Rudolf Serkin, and Alexander Schneider have passed, the Marlboro Music Festival continues to be in good hands. For the most part, the performances contained on these three discs should stand the test of time. They are more than just souvenirs for those who were attendance at those concerts.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Il tramonto by Ottorino Respighi
Performer:  Jennifer Johnson (Mezzo Soprano), Beth Guterman (Viola), Ida Levin (Violin),
Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir (Cello), Yonah Zur (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; Italy 
Date of Recording: 10/24/2010 
Venue:  Gardner Museum, Boston, MA 
Length: 17 Minutes 27 Secs. 
2. Der gayst funem shturem by Robert Cuckson
Performer:  Jennifer Johnson (Mezzo Soprano), Angela Cordell Bilger (French Horn), Sivan Magen (Harp),
Zachary Cohen (Double Bass), Yonah Zur (Violin), Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir (Cello),
Ida Levin (Violin), Beth Guterman (Viola), Sarah Beaty (Clarinet)
Date of Recording: 10/24/2010 
Venue:  Gardner Museum, Boston, MA 
Length: 15 Minutes 27 Secs. 
3. From Jewish folk poetry, Op. 79 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Jon Humphrey (Tenor), Glenda Maurice (Mezzo Soprano), Luis Batlle (Piano),
Benita Valente (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; USSR 
Date of Recording: 08/18/1967 
Venue:  Persons Auditorium, Marlboro, VT 
Length: 28 Minutes 49 Secs. 

Featured Sound Samples

Il tramonto (Respighi)
Der gayst funem shturem (The Spirit of the Storm) (Cuckson): III. Arop iz laykhter
From Jewish Folk Poetry (Songs on Hebrew Folk Themes) (Shostakovich): No 15: Schönes Leben

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