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All-Mozart Awesome at Music Mountain

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Sep 23rd, 2018

From left: Amit Even-Tov, Jan Grüning, Alexandra Kazovsky, Gershon Gerchikov

As cooling weather has rolled in autumn clouds, Music Mountain has concluded its season of Chamber Music concerts with a program of buoyant, late Mozart (1757-1791) masterpieces at Gordon Hall that left the full-house audience with the savory taste of anticipating next summer’s program—what a delightful way to conclude the season and induce concert attendees to commit to next summer’s series!

The Ariel Quartet, which in an emergency late last year was recently called up to substitute for the Borromeo Quartet, opened with String Quartet in B-flat major, K. 589 (1790). This was one of the quartets Mozart composed for Prussian King Frederick II who was an able cello player (Mozart played viola as well as keyboard). Yet Maynard Solomon’s massive 1995 biography casts austere doubt on this royal commission story as being, most likely, a fanciful invention of Mozart, since he says in a letter that he was forced to give the quartets away in June “for a song” to have cash in hand while there is no dedication attached to the publication, nor was there ever any attempt to complete the cycle of six, nor the simple viola exercises Mozart had mentioned a commission for.

At the opening Allegro, all four instruments opened at full tilt, then Amit Even-Tov’s cello lead with authority and dominated the second slow Larghetto with resonant pathos. Alexandra Kazovsky on first violin then lead the lengthy Menuetto with impressive power and startling eloquence. In the concluding Allegro, there was more of a radiant role for Jan Grüning on viola and Gershorn Gerchikov on second violin. The finale was delivered with such exquisite unity and passion that one was awed at Mozart’s ability to conjure optimism that summer when both he and his pregnant wife Constanza were in poor health.

The companion String Quartet in F-major, K. 590, Mozart’s last quartet, was an even more marvelous treat. From Haydn, Mozart learned the humor of teasing pauses in the flow of chamber music; this trick of Haydn’s genial humor becomes both more dramatic and momentarily shocking in the jesting hand of Mozart who demands more zestful panache on the part of players to resume the flow, an aspect of the music that the Ariel Quartet was a suspenseful, polished master of. The concluding Allegro movement had all players surging fiercely in unity and reaching sonic textures that I have never heard in a quartet before. Kazovsky played with heightened virtuosity while Grüning produced a robust roundness that catapulted the trajectory into empyrean air currents anchored to earth by the strings of Even-Tov’s cello. These final two quartets were first performed at Mozart’s house.

Clarinet Quintet in A-major, K. 581 (1789) broke new ground for the clarinet as Music Mountain director Oskar Espina-Ruiz, who joined the quartet with his instrument, explained as Mozart not only set new standards but explored lower notes with the bass clarinet. The composition was dedicated to Anton Stadler whom Mozart admired. Two years earlier in a letter wherein Mozart was making up silly names for his touring entourage, Mozart nicknamed Stadler as Nàtschibinitschibi. (Mozart called himself Punkitititi.)

This quintet highlights the clarinet, most often with the lead violin, played with finesse by Gerchikov, and the clarinet responding with repetition, amplification, or ornamentation. On the centenary of Mozart’s death, Brahms produced his own clarinet quintet as a homage to Mozart’s quintet, beginning his new quintet with the same three notes. Oskar played with mellow fluidity and charming intimacy as the Ariel ensemble surrounded him with musical queries, answers, and sprightly speculation.

The only question the standing audience had was what marvels await Music Mountain next year as they applauded the players, demanding three long bows, for this memorable season closer.