Bruce Hodges hears the performance of Haydn, George Benjamin, Walker and Mendelssohn at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, on 14 November 2023

Marlboro musicians sharing the joy of chamber music. Photo: Pete Checchia

Marlboro musicians sharing the joy of chamber music. Photo: Pete Checchia

Launched in the 1950s, Music from Marlboro has become one of the world’s pre-eminent festivals, in which both players and audiences go to be immersed in the joys of chamber music. In his opening remarks for this concert, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society artistic director Miles Cohen commented both on the festival’s history and the time spent rehearsing for this concert (which clearly paid off).

The evening began with Haydn’s Quartet in G major op.77 no.1, and it would be hard to imagine a foursome – Maria Ioudenitch, Claire Bourg, Hayang Park and Christoph Richter – having more fun. In their hands, the sprightly opening movement, with bow strokes creating happy, cricket-like chirping, was matched by the gleeful precision in the final two movements, with the Adagio offering a serene respite.

In his notes for Viola, Viola (1997) George Benjamin wrote that he wanted ‘to conjure an almost orchestral depth and variety of sound’. Beth Guterman Chu joined Park to realise his intentions, as if forging a Mahler symphony in a mere nine minutes. For fun, I was imagining a similar work called Violin, Violin or Cello, Cello, but neither could emulate the throaty resonance that the composer – and this duo – mined so successfully.

After the interval came a gorgeously textured excerpt from Walker’s Lyric for Strings, arranged for quartet. Given all that came before, anticipation was high for the final piece: Mendelssohn’s Quartet op.44 no.3. I’m happy to report that its exuberance did not disappoint.