in: Reviews

October 21, 2018

Waging Peace with Mozart

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Deciding to open a series with an all-Mozart can be brave, foolhardy, or both, since his transcendent work must be played impeccably. Happily, the Mass Peace Action’s “Music for Peace Concert” at Harvard Epworth Church Saturday, triumphed. The Buswell Ensemble (James Buswell, violin; Amy Galluzzo, violin and viola; and Carol Ou, cello; with Victor Rosenbaum, piano) offered three masterpieces of historic import and sustained popularity—the Sonata No. 40 in B-flat Major, K.454 for Piano and Violin, the Divertimento in E-flat Major for string trio, K.563 and the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K. 478. Music for Peace’s provision of uplifting music at a time of many challenges to security throughout the world provide needed solace.

Writing this K. 454 for the virtuosic Italian violinist Regina Strinasacchi and intending to play it with her at the Kärntnerthor Theater before Emperor Joseph II, Mozart envisioned this sonata as a collaboration between equals. By the night of the premiere, he had barely finished it, and, in fact, had not fully written out the piano part, so he relied on his compositional memory and improvisational prowess.

Köchel 454 has become the favorite of many superb violinists and pianists—Perlman, who recorded it with Barenboim; Zukerman, with Neikrug; David Oistrach, with Badura-Skoda (and also with Yampolsky); Mutter and Orkis; Tetzlaff and Vogt and others. Last night Galluzzo and Rosenbaum equaled any of the above—with nuanced Mozartian phrasing and broad dynamic range. Galluzzo exhibited both delicacy and, when needed, force. Rosenbaum’s lyrical and thoughtful touch transcended.

Amy Galluzzo, James Buswell,and Carol Ou

Then Buswell (violin), Galluzzo (now on viola) and Ou (cello) delved into to the mature Mozart’s Divertimento in E-flat Major, K. 563 with riveting gusto and sensitivity. The work is distinct from his other string trios, and the only one completed. Its six movements encompass many moods with an opening allegro, an adagio, a menuetto, an elaborate andante, followed by another menuetto and ending with an allegro. For me, the 4th movement crowns the work in a compelling andante with theme and 7 variations, in B-flat major, except for the 6th, in B-flat Minor, which is chromatic and contrapuntal. It is worth looking at the score to follow the intertwined melodies and harmonies as they shift among the instruments. Buswell’s masterful and sonorous presentation and the ensemble among the players enraptured us.

Mozart’s 1785 G Minor Piano Quartet No. 1, K. 478, is often considered the first of a new genre. Though Franz Anton Hoffmeister had commissioned three full works, the first was far too tough for most amateurs, so the publisher canceled the rest of the commission, since nonprofessional musicians constituted the “market” for such pieces. Rosenbaum executed decisively, yet, responded to the composer’s demands for delicacy and grace. In many ways, this piano quartet functions a concerto for piano and three superb string players. But as the melodies and harmonies interdigitate, particularly with emphasis on the lower strings of each instrument, it becomes so much more. The first of the three strong movements begins with a commanding allegro containing both introspective and blustery passages, leaving the listener with an unsettled tone. The middle andante is beautiful and sonorous, but has a dark edge. The four themes in the final rondo constitute a lively dialogue between the piano and strings. The four artists collaborated with strength, nuance and deep emotion.

Was anything amiss in these renderings? I followed the scores throughout, and, of course as in any live performance, there were a few inconsequential bobbles, and a phrase or two where collaboration was off synch. But such rare and almost imperceptible moments did little to break the flow or cause consternation. The general public and the many musicians in the audience showed their delight with repeated curtain calls, standing ovations and post-concert buzz.

Julie Ingelfinger, a nearly life-long Cantabrigian, is a trained pianist and nearly congenital music lover. She enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

4 Comments

  1. It seems strange to include the K. 478 quartet in an evening of Peace; my first encounter with it was as an unknown piece of violent music–almost Sturm und Drang–encountered on a PA system; I then spent years tracking down its identity. Beethoven? Schubert? No, Mozart of all people, the genius salon musician writing “struggle” music! I believe the finale “evades/escapes the issue” by being in the major mode and all sunny; all in all a strange choice for a “Peace Concert”.
    BTW, did anyone review Gluck’s “Alcestis” in concert performance by the Harvard University Choir at the Memorial Church at the same time, 7:30pm Sat. 20. Oct.? It didn’t get into the BMI listings; they did the 1776 version for Paris (minus the ballet music the Parisians demanded). Done in French and nicely; great singing both the soloists and chorus. Grand Harmonie, the informed-performance outfit, was the orchestra and made one wonder if Gluck actually sounded like that in 1776. The church was over half-full so there was a good turnout; several ovations. Shame they did only one performance as there were other things against it and Alcestis needs hearing so one can understand Gluck and musical trends better. Odyssey Opera is doing some Gluck in the future that I’m looking forward to.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — October 21, 2018 at 7:56 pm

  2. As the person who programs the music for the “Music for Peace” series to benefit the work of Mass Peace Action, I feel I should respond to the comment from Mr. Redshield about the choice of the Mozart G Minor Piano Quartet for this series. It actually never occurred to me that the music for this series needed to be “peaceful” or “happy” throughout. Music speaks to the whole range of human emotion and addresses the human condition in every aspect. Listening to music, especially communally, reminds us of our common humanity — our struggles as well as our triumphs, our sadness as well as our joy. What better to bring people together in common purpose? If the drama of the first movement of Mozart’s quartet is inappropriate for the occasion, what of Beethoven’s Ninth, often played as a celebration of peace and goodwill. There is plenty of drama and even outrage before the famous choral finale. Was Beethoven “evading/escaping” by the life-affirming last movement? There would not be much music to choose for this series if we eliminated all music that contains portions that allude to strife, drama, angst, and suffering.

    Victor Rosenbaum, Faculty New England Conservatory, Music Director “Music for Peace” series.

    Comment by Victor Rosenbaum — October 22, 2018 at 9:21 am

  3. Touche, a bit. But I did think the Mozart G Minor was a bit “ironic” giving what the audience would hear in it; Haydn’s Symphony #52 would have even worse in violence and Bach’s first keyboard concerto in a harpsichord version is about the most brutal piece I could imagine. I remember Bernstein’s putting Haydn’s Mass in Time of War on a peace program, very appropriate as a cry for peace–French armies were invading Austria at the time of composition and the trumpet calls later in the piece may be an inspiration from that. But some pieces have outside feelings imposed on them almost by social convention rather for anything internal to the piece itself; I would put Beethoven’s Ninth in that category. It’s Beethoven–so we must like it and see it as a universal peace symbol no matter what, almost like we’re applauding Stalin and we have to keep applauding as bad things may happen if we stop applauding. I will argue that parts of Beethoven #9 are a drag even tho’ it requires tremendous effort; as a choral symphony the Mahler Second it can be argued as a total conception blows Beethoven #9 out of the water. But thank you for putting much thought to what would/should be on a peace series program.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — October 24, 2018 at 3:00 pm

  4. Carol and Amy, it sounds like another jewel in the crowns you both wear. We wish we had been there to hear your performances.

    Jim and Bobbie Mitchell

    Comment by Jim Mitchell — October 30, 2018 at 7:33 pm

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