To the vast delight of the audience (decently filling Jordan Hall), Kristian Bezuidenhout and three members of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra played a program of Mozart yesterday afternoon, June 18. Bezuidenhout began the program with the c minor Fantasie for solo piano; his playing is so well known that there is little for me to say – it was beautiful, it was charming, it was moving. After this, he was joined by Petra Müllejans (violin), Gottfried von der Goltz (viola), and Kristin von der Goltz (’cello), for g minor Piano Quartet, and, after the intermission, the E-flat Major Piano Quartet, the only two pieces in the genre that Mozart ever wrote, they having proved commercially unsuccessful at their first publication. That they are gorgeously beautiful pieces requires no stress today, however.
The performance was in every way a joy. The perfect blend and balance of the fortepiano (built by Rodney Regier and based on late eighteenth-century instruments by Anton Walter) with the strings, the evident enjoyment of the musicians, both in the music itself and in playing and communicating with each other, the sheer confidence of bravura technical display and, even more importantly, of exquisite pianissimi – not to mention every color in between – all were spectacular. It has been very long indeed since I have heard ensemble playing that was so crisp, so assured, so very much alive. They even succeeded in making the tuning up of slipped strings between movements sound soft, melodious, and undisruptive. And – what is equally unusual today – they actually moved a serious classical audience to outright laughter at Mozart’s preposterously silly jokes in the last movement of the E-flat quartet.
I was somewhat saddened, however, after the concert, by the conversations which I overheard while unabashedly eavesdropping in the line to the ladies’ room. Everyone was enthusiastic and energetic, but the degree of misconceptions and misinformation floating around was distressing. One lady was informing her friends, with great confidence, that the piano Bezuidenhout was playing had no pedals at all and that all the motions he made with his leg (manipulating the knee-lever damper action) were merely habit left over from his early training on modern piano. Another declared with some force that the reason she dislikes all classical composers was that they were all glorifying Man – by which, as she clarified, she meant not mankind or women, but simply male man – and that she was agreeably surprised by the performance because they didn’t do that. Another lady cried out in astonishment that “they played it like Brahms!!!” When her companion asked what she meant, she said that they slowed down so much; her companion, bemused and taken aback, said “Did they???” Theses were all obviously music-lovers, intelligent people, and experienced concert-goers – and if this is the level of knowledge that the ordinary classical music audience possesses, then there is a lot of work to be done. Knowledge of historical performance practice – what the instruments are, how they work, basic ideas of musical philosophy and historical context – should not be restricted to musicians, and specialists at that. The more an audience knows about the music it is hearing, the more discerning it can be, and that makes things better for everyone. The audience will gain more enjoyment by being better able to understand and judge the performance, and the musician will gain more pleasure and satisfaction from playing for a knowledgable audience that can appreciate details without having them laboriously pointed out beforehand.