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The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Mozart –“Soul of Genius”

Alice Tully Hall

January 27th, Friday, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Andre-Michel Schub, piano
Ani Kavafian, violin
Ida Kavafian, violin
Paul Neubauer, viola
Fred Sherry, cello

PROGRAM

Mozart Concerto No.14 in E-Flat major for Piano and Strings, K. 449 (1784)
Allegro vivace
Andantino
Allegro ma non troppo
Schub, A. Kavafian, I. Kavafian, Neubauer, Sherry

Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448 (1781)
Allegro con spirito
Andante
Allegro molto
McDermot, Schub

INTERMISSION

Quartet in G minor for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello, K 478 (1785)
Allegro
Andante
Rondo: Allegro moderato
Schub, A. Kavafian, Neubauer, Sherry

 

It is always a pleasure to hear Mozart in the intimate genre of chamber music, and to be presented with the ‘Soul of Genius’ - an all-Mozart concert, was an especially memorable event for me. The opening item was a novelty, owing to the fact that concertos are  -especially these days – generally heard with soloist and orchestral accompaniment. The quartet ‘reduction’ added intimacy to the writing, and heightened the awareness of the chamber music character of Mozart’s concerto writing, and this concerto in particular.

The piano soloist, the gifted Andre-Michel Schub, proved that this format was indeed an example of chamber art at its finest, with his interweaving passagework and dialogue –like exchanges with the strings. I particularly liked the freedom with which Mr. Schub shaped his phases, and his musical abandon and ability to be subtly flexible with the tempi. The ensemble overall did seem a little on the muted side. I would have thought that the small representation of bass and middle voices would have encouraged a compensatory vigor in their parts, as the effect overall was slightly top heavy for both the viola, played by Paul Neubauer, and for the cello, Fred Sherry. It was nevertheless a thoughtful interpretation. Sister team Ida and Ani Kavafian provided the sweet tones of the violin section of the ‘orchestra’.

The Sonata in D major for Two Pianos introduced Anne Marie Mc.Dermott to the audience as solo partner. This is a sparkling and exciting work, and must be a thrill to perform as well as listen to! Both pianists radiated the joy of this music, and played as one player; in fact it became quite difficult sometimes to distinguish who was who, and who played which melody? It may have helped had there been greater delineation within the dialogue, or with the entrances of each phrase, to bring out the back and forth exchange aspect of the work. If anything there could have been more dramatic intensity, and color contrasts, as this sonata is predominantly a bright work, and far more straightforward thematically and developmentally than either the concerto or the G Minor Quartet. At the end of the first phrase, for example, in the second theme of the first movement- there is a humorous hiccup, or ‘blip’. When it is played in the same character as the lyrical part of the phrase its impact is lost. The ensemble was well rehearsed, and refined in detail and phrasing. There was also a good propulsive energy, and the two pianists’ tones and approach blended beautifully.

The great quartet of the second half of the program - introduced the same magical key of g minor that gave us the Fortieth Symphony, and the divinely lovely G Minor String Quintet of Mozart. Not only are this quartet’s themes memorable, but also the development of motivic ideas is so fresh, inventive and ‘natural’ that one feels as though it could have been composed in no other way. It bears the inevitability of Mozart’s genius.

I found the opening tempo too rushed, or at least lacking in the gravitas that this opening theme’s dark foreboding suggests. Fred Sherry on cello again seemed to me to be understated in the bass line, although Paul Neubauer appeared more involved than in the concerto, and had noticeably more of an active presence in the ensemble in this work. This may also have been a factor of his having turned more towards the audience so that his tone was better captured than before? I would like to have heard subtleties of inner voicing in the viola brought out even more by Mr. Neubauer, especially since the cello part is anyway doubled often in the piano’s left hand.

Ani Kavafian could have provided stronger ensemble leadership on the violin, as she is a fine and engaging artist, but we needed to hear more of her! Ms. Kavafian’s tone was sometimes covered by the viola - which was an issue of instrumental balance. This became more apparent in the graceful and long singing lines of the slow second movement, where the volume and thicker texture did not take attention away from the upper string line. The third movement, by contrast, is full of bubbling humor and charm, but was played too ‘straight’, especially as many of the phrases are repeated, and in this comes an opportunity to contrast each repetition through different emphasis. The beauty of this work lies in the tremendous variety between the movements, and themes – unlike the Sonata for Two Pianos, which is of a more more uniform character. The G Minor Quartet’s combination of fatalistic foreboding, and also joyous celebration, is perhaps the reason why it has retained its popular appeal.

Given that the ensemble played so well together, and had such a clearly outlined conception of the work, I would like to have heard even more dash and an overall emotionally less careful approach. The playing was at a high professional level, with all artists giving a committed performance. The choice of program was altogether well balanced and created a most pleasurable evening of wonderful music making with fine instrumentalists giving us some the greatest music we could ever wish to hear.
Happy Birthday Amadeus!