By Lawrence Budmen

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was one of the world's great creative geniuses. Like Mozart he was composing major works while still in his teens. The sprightly Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was a youthful score and so was the remarkable "Octet in E-flat Major," Opus 20. Mendelssohn was only sixteen in 1825 when he penned this unique score. All the romantic ardor, vigorous invention, and elegantly expressive instrumental writing that are characteristic of the mature Mendelssohn are found in abundance in the Octet. Few composers have equaled the inspired font of melodic inspiration that graces this score from first note to last. The Mendelssohn Octet was the perfect vehicle for the youthful Musicians from Marlboro on March 2 at UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables - part of the Friends of Chamber music series.

The Musicians from Marlboro were the perfect antidote to the lingering image of chamber music as a vehicle for gray haired players. This group of young artists are former students at the renowned Marlboro Music Festival. Started by the great pianist Rudolf Serkin (and administered today by pianists Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida) Marlboro gives talented young artists the opportunity to study and perform with some of the greatest musicians in the world. This must be an inspiring and liberating experience because the performances of the Marlboro musicians were filled with an enthusiasm and joy in making music that are too rare on the contemporary concert scene. 

Led by violin virtuoso and Fulbright Scholar Joseph Lin the Marlboro ensemble (violinists Michi Wiancko, Harumi Rhodes, and Min-Young Kim; violists Richard O'Neill and Hung-Wei Huang; and cellists Clancy Newman and Marci Rosen) played the astonishing Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo of the Mendelssohn Octet with a feathery lightness that seemed to dance on air. No less impressive was their passionate, rich toned phrasing of the wonderful thematic material in the opening Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco. These players are impeccable musicians who play with great warmth and probing dramatic intensity. Their lyrical reading of the Andante was born indeed on Mendelssohn's "wings of song." An ardent, invigorating version of the Presto finale reflected the inner joy of these young performers. When played with such vigor, intensity, and style the Mendelssohn Octet continues to astound. A wonderfully bright, lively performance of one of the most original works in the chamber music canon! 

The French master Henri Dutilleux (1916- ) is a prolific composer - particularly of orchestral and chamber works. His remarkable 1976 score "Ainsi la Nuit" is a strikingly original quartet that is best defined as "New Age Impressionism." Astringent harmonies, tonal and atonal techniques, and daringly modernist instrumental writing dot this wonderful addition to the string quartet literature. Dutilleux's vision of nature, the stars and constellations, and the mystic beauty of the night are marvelously inventive. This music dares to speak in a new musical language; yet it is truly beautiful - filled with thrilling instrumental sounds. Only superb musicians need attempt this score. Violinists Lin and Rhodes, violist O'Neill, and cellist Rosen gave an exciting performance. Their brilliant instrumental virtuosity matched Dutilleux's inspired creativity.

In a program that spotlighted youthful artists it was only appropriate that the evening's curtain raiser was composed by the greatest prodigy of all time - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1790). The "String Quintet in B-flat Major," K.174 is the work of a 17 year old composer. For sheer melodic richness and imaginative instrumental writing, this is Mozart in full bloom. Violinists Kim and Wiancko, violists Huang and O'Neill, and cellist Newman gave an elegant, finely chiseled account of the initial Allegro moderato. A songful, lyrically pulsating version of the Andante was followed by an effervescent Menuetto ma allegretto and a sparkling Allegro finale. Aristocratic elegance and high spirited abandon were qualities that infused every bar of the Marlboro musicians' performance. 

The wonderfully talented Musicians from Marlboro played with such heartfelt abandon that they seemed to be creating the music as they played. Their programming was a model of intelligence - rare Mozart, a rarely played contemporary masterpiece, and a Mendelssohn classic. Their superb performances gave renewed hope for the future of chamber music making! 

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