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Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Lot to Like

Back in the old days, when we all were exciteable pups, significant classical music events got a newspaper preview and then a review right after the event. In the mid-1980s, I was a stringer for the long-gone Albany Knickerbocker News, the city's afternoon paper. Noting that tonight marks not only an appearance by Musicians from Marlboro at Schenectady's Union College but also the final concert of the season, I offer a preview-review combo from 28 years ago. The preview piece is so unexciting that I can only assume most people who were interested in the event ignored it or attended anyway. And the review shows my pathetic attempt to satsify an editorial decree that you should be able to find something wrong with any event.


THIS SEASON'S SERIES of chamber music concerts at Union College in Schenectady – sponsored by the college and the Schenectady Museum – will conclude with a performance by Music from Marlboro Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the college’s Memorial Chapel. The featured performers are bass-baritone Sanford Sylvan and French horn soloist Robert Routch.

Sylvan first received national recognition when he won third prize in the 1979 Kennedy Center-Rockefeller Foundation International Vocal Competition. He has received three fellowships to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. His recitals throughout the country have provoked a storm of critical acclaim – and he should be well known to area concertgoers for his terrific performance last February at Union College, singing the title role in the Monadnock Music production of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.”

Tuesday be will sing Samuel Barber’s setting of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” and a selection of the Scottish and Irish songs by Beethoven.

Robert Routch has been called the Baryshnikov of the French horn. He has been appearing regularly not only with Music from Marlboro but also with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City. Along with pianist Cynthia Raim and violinist Isidore Cohen, he will perform the Horn Trio E-flat, Opus 40, by Johannes Brahms.

Since 1965, selected musicians from the famed chamber music camp in Vermont have toured under Marlboro’s auspices. From those ranks have emerged a very high percentage of the world-renowned performers of every type of classical music. A New York Times critic declared that the Music from Marlboro concerts are “as valuable as a national forest and should be put under the protection of Congress.”

The Marlboro Music Festival was founded in 1951 by Rudolf Serkin, Adolf Busch, and Marcel Moyse with the goal of offering fine performers a chance to work together without the pressures of professional life. In 1980, Harold C. Schonberg wrote, “Tbe philosophy is unaltered. Marlboro has remained a community of the most expert musicians anywhere.”

Assisting artists for the Schenectady concert include violinist Mei-Chen Liao, violist Ah Ling Neu, and cellist Robie Brown Dan The program also includes Haydn’s String Quartet in F, Opus 20, No. 5. Tickets are available at all community box office outlets, the Schenectady Museum, and will be sold at the door.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, April 20, 1984


THE ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING and high performance standards we’ve come to expect from Music from Marlboro were evidenced in Tuesday evening’s concert at the Union College Memorial Chapel. Even though the sparks of excitement failed to ignite into a memorable experience, each piece on the program was exceedingly well presented.

Bass-baritone Sanford Sylvan, last seen here in a concert version of “The Marriage of Figaro,” sang four songs from Beethoven’s collection of Scottish and Irish settings, and Samuel Barber’s “Dover Beach,” Op. 3, to a poem by Matthew Arnold. Despite the fact that be was working with unfamiliar themes and language, Beethoven produced several delightful sets of songs – 130 in all – with instrumental accompaniment.

Sylvan was backed by piano, violin and cello. He has a tremendously pleasing voice, and sang with feeling for the texts. Though adding dialect is easy to do, given all the Burns and Scott which comprise the texts, it can sound silly coming from a non-native, and Sylvan avoided it.

There is always the problem of being overwhelmed by the instruments in the Beethoven songs, largely due to the composer’s lack of English; for instance, it’s difficult to know which vowels to bring out if you don’t know what the word means.

In complete contrast was “Dover Beach,” a moody song paying tribute to the sea. Barber wrote it for voice and string quartet, capturing the undulations of the waves quite nicely in the strings. Sylvan brought out a darker color in his voice for what was undoubtedly the high point of the concert. Had he been given a few more songs to sing, he would have owned the audience.

The reputation Robert Routch has been acquiring as a French horn player of the first rank was confirmed by his performance in Brahms’s Horn Trio in E flat, Op. 40, but the players didn’t seem to have solid idea of the way they wished to interpret the piece. Certainly, violinist Isidore Cohen, pianist Cynthia Raim, and Routch have no problems with their instruments, and none as chamber muisic players; perhaps it was merely a lackluster night. Music from Marlboro has set
such high standards that we expect to hear more than just a very good performance.

The concert opened with a Haydn string quartet, Op. 20 No. 5 in F. It is an unusual, melancholy work which ends in a double fugue. It was played by Cohen, violinist Mei-Chen Liao, violinist Ah Ling Neu, and cellist Robie Brown Dan.

The variety of the program may have served to work against an exciting result; there didn’t seem to be an emotional progression from one work to the next. Perhaps only one of the two featured players should have dominated the evening.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, April 26, 1984

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