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Glissando Probes Bach and Mozart


Glissando looked to the bare elements of music with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, then unveiled Mozart’s rapturous Quartet No. 1 for Piano and Strings in a startling, new, youthful light at First Church, Boston last night. As typically happens with Glissando, Sergey Schepkin enhanced the sheer delight of the music with gems of insight. He once again discovered and conveyed hidden meaning in our most familiar classical repertoire. By reconnecting Mozart’s budding branches to Bach’s deeply hidden roots, Schepkin and his fellow-musicians forced us out of routine assumptions into a new face-to-face with how we listen to ourselves through the genius of our most inspired masters.

Schepkin played the Preludes and Fugues I-XII from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier “by heart.” I put the expression in scare quotes because far more than memory was at play. Schepkin’s secret, I think, is that he absorbs the music with his whole being, allowing connections to resonate and materialize until unexpected intentions surface and prompt him to expression. Schepkin himself described his journey through the 12 pieces as a journey through a “labyrinth,” implying danger and surprise at every turn. At yesterday’s reading the colors of the keys became strikingly perspicuous. Never before had the brightness of the key of C sounded more clearly. We also admired his revelations of the  latent windy gusts of the key of D, the fluid, the watery beauty of the key of E, and the energetic thrust of the key of F in BWV 856, written, Schepkin wrote, “as a passepied” where “euphony skillfully hides the complexity.” Boldly emphasizing the fast and furious on the one hand, and the quiet and contemplative on the other, Schepkin made use of phrasing, tempi, and dynamics in a novel way to bring out the astonishing diversity of inner states that lie so deeply buried in us that we hardly know them. Most particularly, in BWV 849 in C-sharp Minor, a sort of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ secrecy brought us into a luminous dusk. Similarly, in BWV 853, which Schepkin imbued with an initiatory feeling, inner layers of sedimentation at the core of our being rose to visibility, but without being betrayed into words.

If Schepkin’s reading of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier probed the deeply impenetrable framework of our subjectivity, his dialogues with Nick Hammel (violin), Nathan Emans (viola) and Barna Kàroly (cello) in Mozart’s Quartet No, 1 for Piano and Strings in G Minor, K. 478, returned us to the familiar realm of conflicting emotions. The four musicians explored the tumultuous beauty of Sturm-und-Drang in the opening Allegro, then welled up with longing and hope in the Andante. They interpreted the final rondo as a good-natured quasi-burlesque romp through the mishaps of life, where child-play lingers, and helps us find our way through life’s vicissitudes. The youthful energy of the strings felt entirely authentic. Kàroly gave an impressive grounding to his compadres, contrasting beautifully with Hammel’s lovely flighty sound and with Emans’s subtle and nuanced lyricism. Unity and balance emerged naturally from the palpable camaraderie of the foursome, especially in the final rondo, where musical ideas bounced back and forth joyously and as though spontaneously. Yes, technique matters―but absent authentic passion, it hardly counts. By rekindling this passion and keeping it vibrant, Glissando delivered.

Anne Davenport is a scholar of early modern theology and philosophy. She has published books on medieval theories of infinity and Descartes. Her most recent book is “Suspicious Moderate” on the life and works of the 17th-century English Franciscan, Francis à Sancta Clara.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. For those wondering about the portrait of a young man that our publisher used in this review, it is attributed to Heinrich Friedrich Füger, who was active in Vienna from 1783 on. A label attached to the back of the painting read “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gemalt von Heinrich Füger geb. 1751 in Heilbronn gest. 1818 als Direktor der Belvederegalerie”. Among many suggestions about the work, one possibility is that it is an idealized depiction painted after the composer’s death.

    Comment by Leon Golub — April 22, 2023 at 9:04 pm


    Comment by David moran — April 23, 2023 at 1:12 am

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