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Mozart, Cyclic Themes, Pastoral

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Dec 1st, 2018

From left: Benjamin Beilman, Stefan Jackiw, Jeremy Denk

Pianist Jeremy Denk and violinists Benjamin Beilman and Stefan Jackiw presented a chamber music concert around the concept of cyclic themes in Mozart and later composers who were influenced by that concept last Friday night in The Pawling Concert Series at Trinity-Pawling School’s Gardiner Theater. Beilman played the first half of the concert with Denk, then Jackiw accompanied Denk for the second half. This was a public preview for their upcoming concert on December 16th at Carnegie Hall where they will add a few more pieces. The program was entitled “Mozart Reflected.”

Denk and Beilman opened with an extremely early Sonata in C major, K. 6, by Mozart. This rather lengthy sonata in four movements was really a piano piece with “obbligato accompaniment” as a friend remarked to me.  Mozart played not only piano but violin and viola. This was a warm up, showing that Mozart had cyclic motifs in his head from the get-go. They smoothly segued without pause into the first Allegretto movement of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata in G major, M.77. Ravel was even more obsessed with cyclic motifs than Mozart and this was an excellent example with its bird chirping rhythm (a favorite of Mozart and Rossini) before Ravel spun it into further muddle in the sonata’s later movements.

They then performed the first two movements of Mozart’s Sonata in G major, K. 301 when Mozart was happily busy at the age of twenty-seven in Mannheim. Here the cyclic themes were more emphatic, obsessive, and whimsically carried by Mozart’s joyous humor. Taking a more contemporary tack, they performed the first movement of John Adams’ Road Movies, the ironically titled “Relaxed Groove” wherein it appeared that Adams’ mind was caught in a lightly humorous cyclic psychomachia between Mozart and an Appalachian hoe-down barn-burner. Beilman shone exponentially fierce in this five-minute, cathartic frenzy.

Sonata in D Major, K. 306 was what the doctor ordered: this violin sonata composed in Paris during the autumn of the following year, displays more aggressive and subtle dynamics in the violin along with Mozart’s signature tease of slowing or suddenly racing the tempo as circles around circles develop. Here there was more balance between the violin and piano which appeared to be congenially competing. This performance rated five wows; the audience vigorously applauded.

Stefan Jackiw emerged to accompany Denk in George Frideric Handel’s Sonata in D major to which Denk leant a glimmering rustic glamour of meadows and streams while Jackiw elicited the lyrical heft of puffy cumulous clouds as the sun showed the earth with golden rays. Mozart’s 1781 Sonata in G major written in Vienna at a peak moment of productivity. This bucolic romp contained more subtle shade than Handel, although it, too, floated in the Never-Never Land of Arcadia with Pan playing peek-a-boo.

Leaping forward they played the last two movements, Gigue and Dithyrambe, of Stravinsky’s masterpiece Duo concertant, a favorite of Mussolini who could play the violin part from memory, although when he met his idol Stravinsky, he refused to shake his hand, as he thought it “unhygienic” to touch a Jew’s hand. Denk’s dexterity dominated the Gigue, but the Dithyrambe movement deliciously Jackiw who rang such poignant emotion from his instrument that we entered some enchanted world of plangent, minimalist lyricism that we thought a violin could not accomplish anything more than what we heard. There was a stunned hush in the audience which wanted to explode with applause yet that appeared blasphemous.

Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major, K. 378 provided the finale. Once more there was deep balance and intimacy, a sylvan landscape that found delight in the erotic balanced by the flouncing feathers of wit. As with Stravinsky we had entered a fabled land from which it would be impossible to return to the city of Babble. Denk and Jackiw were dancing in that joyous mysterium that we call Mozart and audience was there with them.