Varied Plums at Chamber IX



Wednesday’s ninth chamber program was the first one where I noticed that there were some vacant seats — but not too many. A few more handfuls of listeners could’ve enjoyed another prime program of contrasting chamber jewels.

The afternoon kicked off with Mozart’s K. 493 piano quartet, which — since he wrote it for his own performance — has a particularly meaty and tricky piano part (Wolfgang was quite the piano virtuoso). As director Geoff Nuttall told us, the piece further reflects Mozart’s other penchants as a master of opera and an expert composer of concertos. It’s written in kind of a “concertante” style, with the piano dominating, and it further contains the kind of spontaneous back-and-forth tradeoffs between instruments that are reminiscent of operatic dialogues or ensemble passages.

And it’s also one of Mozart’s better chamber works (not that there are any bad ones). Its sprightly and amiable opening Allegro contrasts beautifully with the exquisite following Larghetto movement, with its surpassing tenderness and lyricism. Pianist extraordinaire Pedja Musijevic  got a particularly stiff workout in the finale: a bracing Rondo that’s full of witty exchanges between the players. Pedja’s “orchestra” consisted of violinist Daniel Phillips, violist Barry Schiffman and cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Pedja further indulged in some improvisatory flourishes, which Mozart was known to do all the time when he performed.  

Geoff then talked us through the next (and final) number: the Violin Sonata No. 3 by Georges Enescu, a delightful and exotic-sounding work that’s drenched in the piquant gypsy flavors of his native Romania. As Geoff pointed out, one of Enescu’s early teachers was a gypsy violinist, and even though this piece was written in Paris (where the composer later studied with French masters and spent most of his career), it sounded about as Romanian as music can get.

The powerful and evocative score sounded very spontaneous and improvisatory, even though (as Geoff pointed out) it wasn’t; Enescu wrote every note down in his published scores. The opening movement dripped with pathos and melancholy, and the following Andante was a miracle of instrumental color, with musical imitations of birdcalls and the cimbalom (a favorite regional instrument that sounds something like a hammered dulcimer). The final, manic Allegro con brio had us holding onto our seats as our players galloped to a blazing finish. Violinist Livia Sohn played with ferocious Gypsy flair and fervor, and wonder-pianist Inon Barnaton matched her perfectly with playing of tremendous incisiveness and power.

Folks, there are only two more chamber programs to go, and they are absolutely choice. With the festival winding down, your chances of still getting tix are pretty good, so go for it. Also, watch for my upcoming interview with Barnaton: a rising star in the piano world. 

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