Fine music, excellent players close Saratoga Chamber season

The Saratoga Chamber Players closed their 28th season Sunday afternoon at the United Methodist Churc

The Saratoga Chamber Players closed their 28th season Sunday afternoon at the United Methodist Church with a program of rarities bolstered by family connections.

The excellent bassoonist, Natalya Rose Vrbsky, was the featured soloist. She is the daughter of the cellist Judith Serkin, whom she performed with, and the great-granddaughter of Adolf Busch, whose “String Quartet in One Movement” was on the program.

Before that, violinists Jill Levy and Lucy Chapman, violist Ryan Shannon, and Serkin played Puccini’s rare excursion into quartet writing with his “I Crisantemi,” a melancholy elegy on a friend’s death. Puccini would later use a portion of the six-minute piece in his opera “Manon Lescaut” to great effect. Not unexpectedly, the music is very lyrical with the strings in close harmony. The quartet played with good energy with Serkin a solid anchor. Pitch was not always precise.

Devienne’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 73, No. 1 with Vrbsky, Chapman, Shannon and Serkin was wonderfully buoyant with sunny melodies, interesting classically-conceived parts, and a mood that was playful with a hint of drama. Vrbsky’s tone was gorgeous and mellow, her technique and articulations were fluid and flawless, and her breath control effortless. The strings gave strongly energetic support.

Busch, one of the founders of the Marlboro Music Festival, composed in a romantic vein, but his ideas seemed to flit back and forth through various styles and moods. Nothing lay under the fingers with any comfort. The quartet played with intensity and sang the melodies when possible, but it was more about soldiering on than making music. Still, the crowd appreciated the effort.

Boismortier’s well-written, pleasing Sonata in D minor for cello and bassoon played with the instruments’ colors through exchanged ideas or harmonies. Vrbsky was light-fingered with snappy articulations. Serkin tended toward some tightness.

Beethoven’s final String Quartet in F major, Op. 135 received an energetic reading, although pitch initially wandered. Remarkably, Beethoven wrote this work with a light heart despite his ill health. The mood was cheery, even rambunctious, with the lines interweaving often in close harmonies. The third slow movement is the work’s heart with the first violin reaching high to soar as if searching only to resolve into acceptance. The finale was a spunky romp. The players worked hard in good ensemble and the crowd responded enthusiastically.

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