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Mendelssohn's bicentennial bash a smash

At Skan Fest Listeners Have a Party

You only get to celebrate a 200th birthday once, and for Felix Mendelssohn the remarkable performance held in his honor at Thursday's Skaneateles Festival concert was enough to make all his wishes -- and those of the audience -- come true.

Surprisingly, when the party ended it was the youthful Parker String Quartet, and not the precocious birthday boy, who ended up taking the cake.

The opening concert of the Festival's second week ("Happy Birthday, Felix!"), a mostly-Mendelssohn concert commemorating the composer's considerable contributions to the chamber music and vocal repertory, will likely be remembered for the Festival debut of the Parker Quartet, a young up-and-coming chamber ensemble founded at the New England Conservatory of Music that wasted no time convincing this critic that it stands on the brink of a successful career.

From the opening exposition of the first movement of Haydn's Quartet in G Major (Op. 76 No.1), it became clear that all the ingredients of a first-rate chamber ensemble are in-place: a well-matched, warm and homogeneous tone, evenly balanced voicing of the four players, alert ensemble execution, clean entrances and crisp cut-offs, rhythmically tight execution, and a solid and dependable first violinist (Daniel Chong).

Nowhere was the ensemble's blend of tone better illustrated in this work than in the sensuous Adagio movement, from the deeply resonant chordal section to the handsome dialogue between first violin and cello, and the syncopations that permeate this movement were perfectly placed throughout.

The Parker Quartet is, of course, a young ensemble -- and youth comes at a price. The ensemble's overly ambitious tempo of the third movement, which although marked presto is clearly indicated by Haydn as a minuet (and not a scherzo), sacrificed stylistic integrity for brute strength, and there was far too much muscle in the delicate Trio section that followed. Still, the quartet's unabashed exuberance made for some stunning moments during the Finale as the four instrumentalists passed the rapid triplet figures seamlessly amongst themselves in breathtaking fashion.

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