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Mozart According to Rosenbaum

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Victor Rosenbaum (file photo)

Aiming to bring joy to his NEC faculty recital, Victor Rosenbaum selected Mozart works for his Sunday evening at Jordan Hall. It somewhat surprised us that he opened with the Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, K282, Mozart’s only example to begin with a slow movement. He wrote it as the fortepiano had begun to succeed the harpsichord as the dominant keyboard instrument, and he was keen to exploit the new instrument’s capacity for dynamic range. A tentative edge to the opening adagio betrays a pianist-composer still marveling and exploring the new instrument.

Rosenbaum embraced this quality in the opening passage, with flowing passages at pp levels punctuated by occasional forte especially in the bass. His trills and occasional touches of rubato hinted at a nocturnal romanticism within an evening of Mozart serenades. A lighter exploration of the piano came in the minuets, contrasting flowing legato with delicate touches of staccato. Satisfied with his new instrument, his joy came out in notes of the final movement; Rosenbaum was more than happy to provide some showmanship with the righthand passages in the Allegro.

The freedom in structure and style that exists in the fantasy form allowed Mozart to push boundaries. His modulations in key and the use of the lowest registers of the piano in the C Minor Fantasie K475 foreshadows later works such as Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata that delve further into the capacities of an ever-evolving instrument. Lingering on after each chord progression with the pedal, Rosenbaum seemingly directed his audience also to reflect on the chromatic drama.

William Hudgins on clarinet and Kim Kashkashian on viola joined Rosenbaum for the Trio in E-flat Major K498, “Kegelstatt.” The nickname comes from a skittles alley where Mozart played and composed some works for his friends. As with the sonata earlier in the evening, the trio also opened with a slow movement — a gentle introduction to the friendly dynamic between the instruments in the trio. Hudgins’s rich and dominant tone came across. At times, despite her visual flourishes, Kashkashian’s viola struggled to match the volume of the piano and clarinet. It would have balanced better with the fortepianos and clarinets Mozart knew.

In the second half, we heard a fully matured Mozart sonata – the B-flat Major K570. The graceful swinging theme of the first movement journeyed in development section, with Rosenbaum using the qualities he explored from the Fantasie in the first half to bring out the character of each modulation. Rosenbaum effectively brought out in the upper registers the operatic aria which started the long adagio. A strong bass motif, characteristic of Rosenbaum’s recital this evening, brought some tension to the other characters of the second movement. A playful allegretto full of the graceful joy and lightness that is a hallmark of Mozart’s writing brought the sonata to a close. Rosenbaum’s interpretation, especially in the faster passagework, reminded me of the improvisations that Mozart would create on tours around Europe with his father and sister.

Kashkashian, along with Laurence Lesser on cello and Kristopher Tong on violin, joined Rosenbaum for the Piano Quartet in G Minor K478. The strength displayed in the opening theme of the quartet’s first movement not only set the tone for the rest of the movement, but also displayed the tight-knit nature of this quartet. Lesser’s cello notably stood out in the Andante, bringing a deep and reverberating gravitas to the movement. The last movement was full of happy antics, as playful themes bounced seamlessly and merrily among all, with Tong almost leaping from his chair to skip along to the theme when it came to him.

Rosenbaum encored with the reflective second movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major K330. By asking the audience to think about how “even heartbreakingly poignant music brings joy in its endless inventiveness,” he closed out the evening with great aptness.

Ken Wu, an amateur pianist and violinist, is currently an editorial fellow at the New England Journal of Medicine and a pediatric resident training in London in the UK. He has been orchestra manager for the London Doctors’ Orchestra and Choir and currently plays violin in the Kendall Square Orchestra.   

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