• Music Review: Quartets offer twice the pleasure
    By Jim Lowe
     | March 18,2014

    Photo by Eli Akerstein The Borromeo String Quartet — from left, Nicholas Kitchen, Yeesun Kim, Mai Motobuchi and Kristopher Tong — was joined by the Gioviale String Quartet in weekend concerts in Rutland and Montpelier.

    MONTPELIER — More seldom means better — except when it results in a beautiful and exciting performance of one of the most beloved chamber music masterpieces of all time.

    The sold-out Unitarian Church audience certainly felt that way Sunday afternoon when it roared its approval for a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet, Opus 20, by the Borromeo and Gioviale string quartets, presented by Capital City Concerts. (They performed the same program Saturday at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, part of the “Passages at the Paramount” series.)

    Mendelssohn’s Octet, written when the composer was only 16, is brilliant, rich and virtuosic. It’s a certain crowd-pleaser when played well, which it certainly was Sunday. The Scherzo presages another beloved work, his Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” written just a year later.

    Nicholas Kitchen, the Borromeo’s outstanding first violinist, discovered Mendelssohn’s original 1825 score at the Library of Congress, one that the composer revised for the later published version. The Borromeos and their protégés, the Gioviales, performed from the original manuscript, but the differences would be noticeable only to those who knew the work well. Details were different, but the effect remained the same.

    Kitchen led the performance in the dominant first violin role. His playing was brilliant and warm and full of the lyrical drive that makes this music soar with joy. He was matched all the way by the other seven, and they were clearly comfortable playing together. They had just the right mix of lyricism, drive, tenderness and passion. It was a real pleasure.

    The Borromeo delivered a very different work, Béla Bartók’s knotty String Quartet No. 3, with power and authority. Kitchen, violinist Kristopher Tong, violist Mai Motobuchi and cellist Yeesun Kim all played with the requisite virtuosity but, more importantly, the deep understanding of the music to convey it to Sunday’s most receptive audience.

    Graduate students of the Borromeo at New England Conservatory, the Gioviale String Quartet opened the program with Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in g minor. While they didn’t manage the cohesive and fluid sound that makes this music flow, they played with able technique and understanding, and lots of expressiveness. This is an able ensemble well worth watching.


    Capital City Concerts will present “Maids in Vermont” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Montpelier’s Unitarian Church. Flutist Karen Kevra, violinist Mary Rowell, violist Stefanie Taylor, cellist Frances Rowell and harpist Rebecca Kauffman will perform music of Ravel, Dohnanyi, Martinu, Jean Françaix and Libby Larsen. For tickets or information, go online to www.capitalcityconcerts.org.

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