• Music Review: Chamber music crusade bodes well
    By Jim Lowe
     | August 11,2013
    Jim Lowe / Staff photo

    Rachel Calin, right, was soloist with the Burlington Ensemble in Castleton. From left are violinists Michael Dabroski, Sofia Hirsch and Zoya Tsvetkova.

    The Burlington Ensemble — Vermont’s up-and-coming chamber music group — despite an all-too-small audience, delivered a truly exciting performance of Mendelssohn’s String Octet, Opus 20, on Friday at Castleton State College’s beautiful new summer pavilion.

    Friday’s program, “Starry Night,” was also performed in Vergennes, Richmond and Shelburne.

    The concert marks the beginning of the group’s residency at Castleton, where it will present concerts throughout the area and participate in educational programs.

    BE, as it is called, is a varying ensemble of largely Vermont professional musicians. Founded by violinists Sofia Hirsch and Michael Dabroski, it is more a collective than an organization, and receives support by partnering with area nonprofit charities.

    In return for a portion of a concert’s proceeds, the charity promotes the concert through its own channels.

    Over the last couple of years, the group has presented successful concerts in Burlington and a summer series in Shelburne area. This coming season, however, BE will branch out with residencies at the Shelburne Museum’s new Pizzagalli Center for the Arts and the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe, as well as at Castleton.

    Felix Mendelssohn wrote his Octet in E-flat Major, Opus 20, in 1824 when he was 16. It’s a brilliant work, full of youthful drive and beautiful melodies. Its Scherzo even predicts the composer’s Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — Opus 21.

    Like most chamber music of the era, the Octet is first violin-driven, though even more so. Russian-born violinist Zoya Tsvetkova, who plays in the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, led the ensemble with brilliance that was beautiful but never overpowering.

    The ensemble’s playing, though not flawless, was of a consistently high quality. More importantly, these fine players delivered the joy of this music unflinchingly. (Smiles among the players were frequent.) They successfully achieved both the drive and the lyricism, and the Andante was lovely with real tenderness.

    Clarinetist Elizabeth LeBlanc proved a most expressive player with plenty of nuance in Bernard Hermann’s rambling 1967 quintet for clarinet and strings, “Souvenir de Voyage.” The work, while not terribly cohesive, is full of beautiful parts and evocative of the composer’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock films. Violinist Hirsch led the able quartet of strings: violinist Dabroski, violist Elizabeth Reid and cellist John Dunlop.

    Rachel Calin was the able guest soloist in the Concerto No. 2 in b minor for double bass and strings by Italian Romantic composer and double bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889). The bass is not often heard as a solo instrument, but Calin proved more than able in this less than memorable vehicle.

    Calin’s performance, though a little strained in the first movement, was beautiful and lyrical in the slow movement and virtuosic in the finale.

    The Burlington Ensemble is not only a crusader for chamber music throughout Vermont, it offers some very fine performances.

    Burlington Ensemble

    For information about the Burlington Ensemble’s 2013-14 season, call 598-9520, or go online to www.burlingtonensemble.com.

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