Saturday, April 5, 2008

MEA CULPA, Mozart!

I realized this morning that, by concentrating yesterday on the juxtaposition of György Kurtág and Franz Schubert in the Chamber Music Masters program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music I had overlooked the K. 493 E-flat major piano quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that opened the program, thus committing the same sin of omission that I seem to keep laying on Joshua Kosman's accounts in the San Francisco Chronicle. If I am to be allowed an excuse, it is that yesterday I was working "on the road" with far more limited resources under far greater time constraints and therefore felt obliged to make what I felt was the most important point about the recital. Now that I have a bit more time at my disposal, I shall try to make contrition for that sin that I try to take so seriously.

I first came to know the two Mozart piano quartets from a old Musical Heritage Society vinyl. It is long gone, and I can no longer remember the performers. However, I do remember that the liner notes had a strong bias toward the K. 478 G minor work as the more substantive of the two. What I cannot remember is why the author of the notes made this judgment. It may have been a bias induced by the key of Mozart's penultimate symphony or, even worse, a tendency to regard the minor key as "deeper" than the major. Whatever the explanation may have been, it was clear from the performance that Peter Frankl developed with violinist Axel Strauss, violist Jodi Levitz, and student cellist Erin Wang that it was thoroughly specious. K. 493 may start with a sunny welcome; but it does not take much attentive listening to recognize that no end of subtle nuances unfold at every turn in the performance, many of which are endowed with that light touch that can be traced back to his earliest piano sonatas for both two and four hands. Both sonatas were composed at the time when Mozart was entering his early thirties; but K. 493 is a strong (but not forceful) reminder from Mozart that his "inner twenty-year old" is still alive, well, and up to its usual show-off tricks. This is the same spirit I cited in Richard Goode's recent performance of the final movement of the K. 456 piano concerto with the San Francisco Symphony; and it is somewhat interesting that, in the overall Mozart chronology, these two works sort of "flank" the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro. What it importance in both these works is that Mozart's intensions can only be honored through just the right approach to execution, and Frankl and his colleagues appreciated this subtlety as much as Goode did. Once again, San Francisco had an opportunity to flourish as what I have called "a city of well-developed Mozart listeners!"

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