Mozart from The Olympic Festival Quartet

Mozart : The Festival Quartet: Charles Weatherbee and Korine Fujiwara (violins), Alan Iglitzin (viola), Clancy Newman (cello); Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 9.7.2010 (BJ)

After Paul Hersh’s ramble through the nocturnal piano literature, and the July 4th weekend’s American brass jamboree, it was back to the core chamber-music repertoire for the third week’s program at the Olympic Music Festival’s bucolic western Washington site. And in watching and listening to the players as they tackled two of Mozart’s string quartets and his Divertimento, K. 563, for the much rarer string-trio medium, it was possible to understand what it is that keeps musicians fresh far beyond the springtime of life.

The young violinists and cellist of the Festival Quartet gave and took such obvious delight in their interaction, tossing Mozart’s witticisms from one to another with a glee as striking as the intensity they brought to more serious passages, that you could understand how the Festival’s evergreen founder, violist Alan Iglitzin, is able to keep both technique and zest in pristine condition at what must be at least twice their age. In music, it seems, one simply does not grow old.

The first half of the program offered two of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to his friend Haydn: the B-flat-major work known as the “Hunt” Quartet because of its first movement’s galloping rhythm, and the far more saturnine D-minor Quartet. The very different characters of the two we heard this week were vividly realized by the players. One passage in the first movement of the B-flat work typified the warmth of their response to the music, Newman’s cello initiating a subtle but compelling speed-up that was duly followed by his colleagues, and the trio section of the minuet was just one of many places where Iglitzin dug with relish into the staccato parts Mozart wrote for the viola, which was his own instrument when he played quartets with Haydn and others. The gravity of the playing through much of the D-minor Quartet provided just the right contrast of mood.

After intermission, I thought Korine Fujiwara might move for a change into the spotlight. But she plays the viola opposite Weatherbee’s first violin in their Carpe Diem String Quartet, and she evidently prefers to be an inner voice (like Mozart himself, who usually played the viola in chamber music because he “liked to be in the middle of the harmony”), so it was Weatherbee who again took the lead for the amazing masterpiece for string trio that is titled – perhaps for no better reason than its entertainment-style six-movement layout – “Divertimento.”

Entertaining this late work certainly is, but its grace and wit in no way preclude depth of expression and perfection of form. In fact, given the care with which Mozart directed that the da capo of the fifth-movement minuet should be played after the first of the two trio sections with “the repeats piano,” and then, after the second trio, without repeat, it was naughty of the performers to leave out those soft repetitions, which, while providing a satisfying change of tone, would have added no more than 30 or 40 seconds to the admittedly considerable length of the work. But that, along with their general disinclination to observe second-half repeats in sonata-form movements, is the only complaint I have to level at these wonderful musicians. Their concert was a joy from beginning to end – and similar rewards are promised by next weekend’s program with the inclusion of the E-flat-major Quartet, K. 428, perhaps my favorite among Mozart’s six peerless “Haydn” Quartets.

Bernard Jacobson