Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three Mozart pieces glisten at Chamber Music Northwest concert

The audience filled every seat at the Cabell Center on the campus of the Catlin Gabel School in eager anticipation of an all-Mozart concert that took place on Tuesday (June 30). This performance ushered in the second week of concerts presented by Chamber Music Northwest with a program consisting of music for string quartet, a quintet for piano and winds, and a quartet for piano and strings.

The Orion String Quartet kicked things off with very expressive playing of Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major (“Spring”), K. 387. This piece is one of the six quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn, and, according to musicologist Paul Griffiths “it was highly unusual to dedicate an edition to a colleague, rather than to a noble patron who would have been flatter into providing monetary support.” In any case, Haydn confessed to Mozart’s father Leopold that “your son is the greatest composer known to me.”

One of the magical things I found in the Orion String Quartet’s performance of this piece was how violinists Todd Phillips and Daniel Phillips could hand off a theme or a passage so seamlessly that if you closed your eyes, you couldn’t tell which one was playing. I also loved the insightful way the cellist Timothy Eddy and violist Steven Tenenbom and the Phillips brothers could dig into the music and create the feeling that we in the audience were better off having heard it.

The second piece of the concert was Mozart’s Quintet in E-Flat Major for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon, K. 452. Mozart himself considered this quintet to be the best piece that he had ever written – at least to that point. He wrote it in 1784 when he was 28 years old, and he had already finished all of the symphonies except for the last three as well as all of the string quartets and all of the masses (save the “Requiem”).

Pianist André Watts, oboist Stephen Taylor, clarinetist David Shifrin, hornist William Purvis, and bassoonist Cynde Iverson gave Mozart’s Quintet a finely honed performance. Purvis especially put a full range of emotion into the horn parts. Watts played the piano with too much pointillism for my taste, but at least he kept his humming and other odd sounds to a minimum.

The concert finished with the Quartet No. 1 in G Minor for Piano and String. K. 478, which Mozart wrote in 1785. Violinist Ida Kavafian and cellist Peter Wiley joined Tenenbom and Watts to give a clear and vivid performance of this masterpiece. The chemistry between the players was terrific, especially with their transitions in volume and in tempo. The super-smooth tradeoffs in themes between the strings and the many soft moments in the second movement were a pleasure to experience.

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