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Roycroft festival brings intensity on the road

The Roycroft Chamber Music Festival, based in East Aurora, has a home away from home in North Buffalo's beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd. Friday, eight performers from the festival performed quartets there by Schubert and Tchaikovsky.

It was a marvelous and intense evening.

The church is small, so people were packed in, and as twilight fell outside the Tiffany windows, a kind of magic took over. Schubert's Quartet No. 15 in G, Op. post. 161, has one foot in this world and one in the next. There's really no putting this music into words.

Performing the Schubert were Rebekah Johnson on first violin, Nancy McFarland Gaub on second violin, violist Ann Roggen and cellist Scott Ballantyne. Their balance and confidence were evident right from the start, in the way they handled the opening sounds. I don't really want to say "phrases." They're more like whispers, or rustles.

As the music built, they played up the intensity of the rhythms. This was no-compromise playing. The second movement was, at times, raw. There were harsh exclamations -- rage, you could almost say, which is rare in Schubert.

The Scherzo was airy and breathless. I always find the trio section of this movement so haunting -- like so much of Schubert, it's exquisite in its melody, excruciating in its resignation and sorrow. Gracefully, the musicians passed the theme one to another.

The finale of this quartet is like Mozart: full of sweet, skipping lightness, but somehow shot through with sorrow. The group brought out its depths.

Introducing the concert, McFarland Gaub had said that after the Schubert, Tchaikovsky's Quartet No. 1 would be a dessert. It was.

But what a dessert. The Schubert turns listeners inward. The Tchaikovsky makes you want to hug strangers. The Tchaikovsky team -- violinists Amy Glidden and Rebecca Ansel, violist Donna Lorenzo and cellist Roman Mekinulov -- clearly knew they had a winner in this piece. They threw themselves into it with spirit.

They did face a challenge in that it was impossible to top that first movement. It had two highlights: first, a long, sustained tension, and second, a gradual, beautifully crafted acceleration that brought the movement to a tumultuous close. Barred by protocol from applauding, people were laughing in amazement.

Glidden led the gracious Andante themes with a light, lyrical touch. In the Scherzo, the tough, irrepressible Mekinulov was the driving wheel. The group struck a ringing, assertive tone that made the ensemble sound larger than it was.

At the end, everyone jumped up and applauded the sheer fun of it all.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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Roycroft Chamber Music Festival

Friday night in the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. Festival continues at 8 tonight and 7 p.m. Sunday in St. Matthias Episcopal Church, 374 Main St., East Aurora.

For more information, visit www.roycroftchambermusic.bfn.org.

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