New Classical Tracks

New Classical Tracks - Chamber Music from Marlboro

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
August 2, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. — "Caution musicians at play." That's the sign posted at the entrance of the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. Every summer since 1951, the world's most distinguished musicians and exceptional young artists have gathered there, to spend seven weeks on the hilltop campus of Marlboro College. What makes this creative community so special is the beauty of the countryside, the isolation from everyday distractions, and, for the young musicians, the dynamic learning experience of actually playing together with a master musician rather than being coached by one. The musical and the human interaction between young and old makes Marlboro a unique, caring family.

As you might imagine, this environment spawns some very memorable performances and now to coincide with the festival's 60th anniversary, the Marlboro Recording Society has released a series of concert recordings with material hand-picked by Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode, the artistic directors of Marlboro.

This recording celebrates cellist David Soyer. In 1964, he formed the Guarneri String Quartet at Marlboro, and he was a fixture there for more than 35 years. Soyer died in February, 2010. These performances of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert were made over the last few years when he was well into his eighties. Mitsuko Uchida, the featured pianist on this recording, admits she was initially afraid to perform with Soyer, "Ever since I met him up in Marlboro in '92, of course I knew he was in the Guarneri String Quartet, he was known to be the 'pianist murderer.'" David Soyer never really murdered a pianist, but he would often criticize pianists for playing too loud and drowning out their partners. Mitsuko Uchida admits that he may have had a point--Beethoven and Brahms were writing for 19th-century pianos with a more transparent sound. Players using modern instruments have to work to get the balance just right.

The balance between the three instruments in Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio is probably what's most striking about this performance with Soyer, Uchida, and violinist Soovin Kim. This trio is the crowing masterpiece of Beethoven's cycle of piano trios. It's dedicated to Beethoven's one-time student, trusted friend, and patron, the Archduke Rudolph of Austria. It's still considered the greatest of all works for piano, violin and cello, so it's no wonder Uchida, Soyer and Soovin Kim wanted to dissect it during their time at Marlboro in 2006. The dynamic opening allegro contains a gorgeous melody played by each member of the trio in turn, creating a delightful musical conversation. The slow andante cantabile is a gorgeous anthem for piano, cello and violin. The final presto is like a mini-opera, performed with dramatic flair.

Mitsku Uchida says working with cellist David Soyer was a tremendous learning experience. Soyer practiced a lot, even at age 85, in 2008 when they were working on Schubert's Piano Trio in E-flat major at Marlboro, "I realized one day that he wanted to hear what he heard in his own practicing. So he didn't want anybody, particularly not the pianist, to cover his sound," she recalls. "Once he realized that I was not covering him. It took him, well, over a week to realize, that I was playing unbelievably quiet. And I explained to him why and I showed him, I can do this without much effort, but listen to what I am doing. But things like the slow movement of the Schubert E-flat trio, I don't think I've played with anybody playing so beautifully and so movingly and so simply. Those are treasures I shall always carry."

David Soyer once said the role of the cello is three-fold: to provide a base, a foundation for the ensemble, to be the bass, the life of the harmonic structure, and to set the pulse, the rhythm for the group. Soyer was well into his eighties when the performances on this CD were recorded and his energy level, leadership and passion showed no sign of waning. David Soyer's spirit will live on at Marlboro, a special place where musicians live together, eat together, and breathe music together. That spirit is captured on this recording which is just one of the many treasures recently unearthed from Marlboro's musical archives.

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