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In performance: Fessenden Ensemble

Web-only review:

The Fessenden Ensemble honors Barber's centennial
by Joe Banno

Samuel Barber’s orchestral version of his Adagio for Strings is such a ubiquitous presence on concert programs and at national memorial services, it’s easy to forget that the music originated as the slow movement of his Op 11 String Quartet. Four string players drawn from the Fessenden Ensemble gave the Barber quartet a reading of great concentration and warmth at St Columba’s Church on Tuesday, reminding listeners that the Adagio sounds most personal and eloquent in the spare, vaulting beauty of its original instrumentation. The allegro movements that bookend the adagio, with their fitful mix of yearning melody and brooding counterpoint, unfolded in this performance like a pair of compelling dramas, with four troubled characters seeking a peace that’s denied them by the haunted, ambiguously muted coda.
(read more after the jump)

Barber’s first published score, the Serenade for String Quartet, is a brief work of teasing and elusive allure, its chromatic harmonies periodically souring into disorienting dissonance, then returning to seduce the ear further. It, too, received a finely honed performance from the Fessenden players, in what was originally scheduled to be an all-Barber centennial program (including his wind piece, Summer Music, and the Medea Ballet Suite), before unforeseen events forced a last-minute change. But sparkling, beautifully prepared readings of Beethoven’s B-flat-Major Piano Trio, Op 11 and Haydn’s G-Major Piano Trio, Hob XV: No 25 – led by the vibrant phrasing and imperial swagger of Cecilia Cho’s keyboard work – made these substituted pieces most welcome.

--Joe Banno

By Anne Midgette  |  March 4, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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