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Mozart Project Finale at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Mar 5th, 2017

Peter Serkin and Rachel Doehring

The fifth and final concert of Peter Serkin’s curated Mozart project was held in Bard’s Olin Hall. Encouraged by Robert Martin, Serkin began fiddling with some new arrangements of Mozart compositions; thus, the project became enhanced with unexpected direction. Sunday afternoon’s concert opened with Piano Trio (Divertimento) in B-flat Major, K. 254 played by Peter Serkin on piano, Robert Martin on cello, and Zhen Liu on violin (all in teaser photo). This first piano trio of Mozart (1776) remains more classical than romantic: Zhen Liu (from Inner Mongolia) projected a clear and forceful line, perhaps more classically severe than I have heard before, yet expertly so resonant that his adroit performance was as memorable a treat while Serkin’s piano flamed with rhythmic exuberance and Martin held a much-needed steady supporting line for both performers in their dialogue. This was of the caliber, both in length and ferocity, which one might usually associate with a closing number rather than an opener.

Serkin took Andante and Variations in G Major, K. 501 and arranged that trio as a sextet. At first Serkin had given the higher lead line to a viola with supporting lower oboe, yet by the manic fifth draft over the past few months he had decided to replace this arrangement with a lead flute and supporting bassoon. These roles were expertly played by Eszter Fiscor on flute and Cathryn Gaylord, my favorite bassoonist at the Bard Conservatory. Their high-low dialogue dynamic was ably supported by Rowan Puig Davis’ remarkable pizzicato on bass and Gigi Hsueh’s melting, Romantic violin interludes. The sturdy lower line received support from Roman Lewcun on cello while the higher flute was rounded out by Matthew Norman on viola. Chatting with Serkin during intermission, I was surprised by his humble astonishment that this marvelous arrangement was ever heard at all (he never imagined anyone would play it), and he expressed delirious satisfaction at how well the performers had executed the piece, which was evident in the expressions and murmurs of the two hundred audience attendees. I thought it a pity that the performance had not been recorded, yet I hope that day might soon occur.

Soprano Rachel Doehring, with Serkin on piano, sang three Mozart lieder (out of about thirty he had written). Doehring sang with full confidence, power, and expert dramatic phrasing these three charming lyrics; she endowed each song with their peculiar, charming humor. As a first-year student in the Graduate Vocal Program, she displayed more accomplishment than the usual promise one might find in a student.

The concert concluded with Serenade in E-flat Major, K. 375, a popular court sextet (two horns, two bassoons, two clarinets), to which Mozart later added in 1782 two oboes. Jingyu Mao on clarinet performed with notable enthusiasm and finesse, sounding confident of a future career as a soloist. The final fifth movement, an Allegro, of this more extroverted social work, was performed with rollicking gusto.       

The Mozart Project received generous financial support from Rosalind Seneca.