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.
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.