ALBANY -- For a chamber music recital, Sunday afternoon's concert by the Borromeo String Quartet sure packed a wallop. The event at the Massry Center was presented by Renaissance Musical Arts.
Actually, it was a string quartet concert for only about five minutes, when the Boston-based group opened with J.S. Bach's "St. Anne" Fugue, BWV 552. Originally an organ work, to the tune known by the text "O God, our help in ages past," it was arranged by Borromeo's first violinist and founder Nicholas Kitchen. The four-part counterpoint quickly swelled to an attractive, full-bodied sound that foretold what was to come in the rest of the afternoon.
Soon the quartet was joined by a bass, five woodwinds and three brass, all students of the New England Conservatory, where the Borromeo is in residence. The piece was Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll." An atypically light opus from the German composer, it was a feast of lush sound and vivid playing. Functioning without a conductor and with minimal cues from members of the core quartet, the large ensemble had a remarkably organic and unified approach to tempo and dynamic. Horn solos by Anna Dodd were particularly elegant and pleasing.
After intermission came Mendelssohn's Octet for strings in its original and seldom heard version from 1825. Discussing the piece on stage and in his program notes, Kitchen showed obvious pride in bringing the work before the public because no performing edition exists. But all Kitchen had to do was scan the original manuscript into a computer and put it before his group, which is accustomed to playing from a full score. Joining the Borromeo were members of A Far Cry, a new ensemble also from Boston.
For added impact, Mendelssohn's entire score was projected onto a large screen for the audience to follow along. Determined speed readers with good vision may have stayed with it, but simply listening to the gorgeous playing was enough. It was opulent and engaging from start to finish.
The acoustics in the Massry can verge on loud and edgy, but in this case the room contributed to the warm feeling of the entire program. Let's hope the Renaissance series and The College of Saint Rose continue to collaborate.