Erich Höbarth and Susan Tomes: Marvellous in Mozart

24/06/2013

  Mozart: Erich Höbarth (violin), Susan Tomes (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 23.6.2013 (MB)

Violin Sonata in D major, KV 306/300l
Violin Sonata in F major, KV 376/374d
Variations on ‘Hélas, j’ai perdu mon amant,’ KV 360/374b
Piano Sonata in B-flat major, KV 570
Violin Sonata in E-flat major, KV 481

It was a delight to welcome back Erich Höbarth and Susan Tomes to the Wigmore Hall, following an earlier all-Mozart recital in October. For just a few opening bars of the D major sonata, KV 306/300l, I was unsure about the balance, Höbarth’s violin sounding a little too forward, but soon all was well. Höbarth offered nicely modulated tone, born in part of intelligently varied vibrato; Tomes’s piano part was clean, clear, equally pleasing in its attentive though not fussy shading. This first movement proved predominantly sunny, the stormy contrast of the development section well judged. Warm lyricism from both players characterised the slow movement. Conversational rhetoric made its delightful points, without detracting from overall structure. Again, the fine degrees of shading from both Höbarth and Tomes impressed: not for its own sake, but for the insight shown into Mozart’s music. Such qualities were equally apparent in the finale. The tricky alternating metres were successfully navigated, not least in a witty account of the cadenza.

The first movement of the F major sonata, KV 376/374d, showed itself by turn radiantly lyrical and sensitively sinuous. Poised throughout, it was nevertheless alert to the music’s sterner moments. The sophistication of Mozart’s melodic and harmonic construction – when does one idea end and another begin? – was perceptively and lovingly communicated in the Andante. Mozart’s abundant melodic genius was once again hymned in the finale. Harmonic understanding was equally apparent, whether with a broader brush or in the subtlety of the moment.

The second half opened with the G minor Variations on ‘Hélas, j’ai perdu mon amant’. Mozart’s dignified sadness in this tonality was readily apparent, as was a fine sense of give and take, rubato included, between pianist and violinist. The performance culminated in a dramatically vehement sixth variation. Why do we almost never hear this wonderful music? Tomes then had the stage to herself for the B-flat major Piano Sonata, KV 570. Her first movement upheld the balance between Bachian counterpoint and sinuous melodic chromaticism. Voicing was clear, and there was ample sense of formal dynamism. Above all, the deceptive ‘simplicity’ of this sonata and of late Mozart more generally was granted a voice. I initially cavilled at the swift tempo for the slow movement; it is, after all, marked Adagio. Yet it was made to work in unassuming fashion. There is greater profundity to be found here, not least of the searingly Romantic variety, but this was certainly preferable to striving after meretricious ‘effect’. Some decoration was applied, all eminently reasonable, though that did not prevent a seemingly irritated and unquestionably irritating man in front of me from shaking his head whenever it occurred. Tomes navigated surely the treacherous demands of the finale; even its opening phrase is enough to have one throw one’s hands in the air and say that it is unperformable. Crucial to her achievement was the ability to place notes, both in themselves and in relation to one another: there is, as ever in Mozart, nowhere to hide. Mozart’s marriage of learned counterpoint and extreme chromaticism once again worked its eternal marriage; we did not sound so very far from the well-nigh Schoenbergian Gigue, KV 574, as indeed we are not, whether musically or chronologically. Again, decoration was tastefully employed.

Höbarth returned for the E-flat Violin Sonata, KV 481. Difference in scale from the earlier works for piano and violin immediately registered. Here was a grander canvas, upon which, most creditably, Mozart’s music was granted plenty of space to breathe, the Fuxian ‘Jupiter’ tag from the first movement’s development section making clear the composer’s seriousness of purpose. I could not help but wonder whether the drama of that movement as a whole might have been projected a little more strongly, but it remained an eminently musical performance. Again, a grander scale was apparent in the slow movement, though certainly not at the cost of more intimate moments. There was, quite rightly, a strong sense of the operatic aria to the performance, especially from Höbarth, but there also remained a complexity that was inescapably ‘instrumental’ in thought as well as deed. I again missed on occasion a stronger sense of drama in the finale, but it received a fluent performance, in which – no mean feat this – instrumental balances were always finely judged. And from the fourth variation onwards, any prior reticence was banished. There was, moreover, an excellent lilt to the final, ‘hunting’ variation. As an encore we heard another great aria-like slow movement, that to the A major Violin Sonata, KV 526.

Mark Berry

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