Return to Marlboro

08.10.10
Nicholas Phan
The Rest Is Noise

By Alex Ross

Over the weekend I made a brief visit to Marlboro Music, which I wrote about last year (the essay will reappear in my new book, Listen to This). The place is happily unchanged in almost every particular, although the absence of the late David Soyer is strongly felt. Mitsuko Uchida, who serves as co-director with Richard Goode, has been in residence the entire summer; on Saturday night, she performed, for the first time in her career, Schumann's Dichterliebe, in the company of the tenor Nicholas Phan. The program also included Beethoven's C-Minor String Trio and Bartók's Sixth Quartet. On Sunday there was an eclectic concert of the "only at Marlboro" variety: Adolf Busch's Drei Lieder, for voice, viola, and piano; Schumann's Six Pieces in Canonic Form, in the arrangement by Debussy for two pianos; Schubert's "Auf dem Strom"; and Dvorák's Sextet.

Phan and Uchida's Dichterliebe was a subtle, wide-ranging interpretation, one that gathered intensity by degrees. You often hear a Dichterliebe in which the singer and pianist seem to be mad as hatters right from the start; Uchida, by contrast, played the opening phrase of "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai" straightforwardly, with little rubato, and then introduced just a bit of hesitation in the repetition, as if to telegraph the upheavals to come. Phan, too, began almost placidly, a couple of aching pauses at the top of the register hinting that all was not well. This tenor, noted for his Handel, Mozart, and Britten, may not seem a natural for the cycle, but, a few cautious low notes aside, he took hold of the music with unerring musicality, precise diction, and conversational command of German. The crucial turn came in "Und wüssten's die Blumen," taken at a helter-skelter tempo; Phan incisively etched the desperate lyrics, and Uchida's coda, after "She has torn my heart in two," felt like a precisely calibrated explosion. The pianist's reading brought one revelation after another; it was bracingly free of received ideas and recital clichés. She plans to revisit Dichterliebe at Salzburg next summer, in league with Ian Bostridge. Phan will sing Purcell and Britten at Carnegie in November.

The other performances last weekend showed the benefit of Marlboro's extended, nearly endless rehearsal process. Dina Nesterenko, Kyle Armbrust, and Marcy Rosen offered a fiercely focused reading of the Beethoven; Bella Hristova, Robin Scott, Vicki Powell, and Rosen caught the violently changing moods of the Bartók, with the final movement striking very deep; Cynthia Raim and Amy Jiaqi Yang gave a seamless, hypnotic account of the Schumann-Debussy; and the Dvorák Sextet, with Ying Fu, Miho Saegusa, Rachel Ku, Kim Kashkashian, Angela Park, and Andrew Janss, bounced and swayed irresistibly. The public concert series, which has been drawing standing-room-only crowds, concludes on Sunday, with the traditional performance of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy.