in: Reviews

May 1, 2010

BSO Colleagues Honor American-Japanese Cultural Connection with Mozart

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A year ago Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Principal oboist Keisuke Wakao founded the American-Japanese Cultural Concert Series “to collaborate in offering beautiful music to the world.” This year he expanded it into three different concerts, at the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill on April 30, at 8:00 p.m. (subject of this review), at the First Church in Boston, Sunday, May 2, at 4:30 p.m., and at Ventfort Hall in Lenox on Monday, May 3, at 7:00 p.m. Combined program notes are in English and Japanese, although without citing movements

For starters, kudos to Wakao’s seemingly boundless energy, amply exhibited throughout this concert. His core group comprises colleagues in the BSO, on this occasion Richard Sebring, horn; Richard Ranti, bassoon; the Russian Alexander Velinzon and the Chinese Yuncong Zhang, violins; Canadian Rebecca Gitter, viola; and Romanian Mihal Jojiatu, violoncello. For this all-Mozart concert they were joined by Polish Emanuel Ax, piano, and Japanese Masaharu Yamamoto, clarinet. All except Yamamoto now live in the U. S.

The first work was Mozart’s Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon in E-flat major, K. 452, in three movements, written in Vienna at the beginning of his most fertile and mature period (1784). All the instruments play a substantive role in the contrapuntal texture, either handing lines back and forth to each other, or, as in the case of the “Cadenza in tempo” at the end of the Rondo, teasing each other with slightly varied imitative entries. Unfortunately the tempo and dynamics of all three movements were the same, and a bit plodding. A possible (but not probable) fault in this vaulted space lay with the acoustics of the new piano, on this occasion dedicated to parishioner Suzy Westcott, who was present and assisting with the concert. For this reason, Ax performed a surprise Chopin (Ballade?) in her honor. Ax is much beloved in Boston, and he was brought back many times with applause.

During the long intermission – over a half hour, Wakao walked among the audience, greeted friends, and worked with his reeds, placing them on the piano to be convenient to his peregrinations. Thus Wakao’s intentions for this series are clearly informal and cordial. There were many enthusiastic Japanese people among the audience.

Mozart’s Quartet in F major, K. 370, for oboe and string trio (Velinzon, Gitter, and Jojatu), followed.  Written in Munich in 1781, this is a lovely concerted showcase for the oboe in three movements, and Wakao certainly rose to the occasion. He performs with great dramatic flair, yet always in close touch with his companions. His ability to perform sweetly at a high pianissimo enables astonishing performances of long upward runs at a sweeping decrescendo. His colleagues were no slouches either; freed of their burden of the piano and the heavier winds, they made true chamber music in playfulness (thanks to the music itself), freedom of movement, and quality of sound, while maintaining a tight-knit unit. At the end, Wakao bade his colleagues adieu by cradling his little daughter in his arms as he acknowledged applause, and then taking her back to sit in the audience.

The final work, Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K. 581 (1789), also in three movements, brought back guest clarinetist Masaharu Yamamoto, who is currently professor at the Tokyo University of the Arts. The string players added a second violin (Yuncong Zhang, who joined the BSO just this year), and they were all off and running on a really beautiful performance of this all-too-familiar work. Yamamoto was no commanding soloist here: rather he played gently, with great sensitivity to both the structure of the music and the sounds of his companions, often indistinguishable from them. Perhaps his style even inspired them, because they were clearly far more engaged even than in the previous work. The Minuet and Trio were a bit breathless, but in the final Allegretto con Variationi they had us in the palm of their hand. These particular string players, especially the Russian violinist Alexander Velinzon, are a fine group, and I hope to have the opportunity to hear more of them.

Mary Wallace Davidson has directed the music libraries at Radcliffe, Wellesley, Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University. She now lives in the Boston area.

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