Chamber Music by Mozart, Schumann, and Dohnányi at the Olympic Music Festival

Mozart, Schumann, and Dohnányi : The Festival Quartet: Charles Weatherbee and Korine Fujiwara (violins), Alan Iglitzin (viola) and Clancy Newman (cello); Paul Hersh (piano) Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 17.7.2010 (BJ)

After the previous week’s pairing of K. 421 and K. 458, a performance of Mozart’s E-flat-Major Quartet, K. 428, came as the icing on the cake. This wonderfully rich and inventive work has long been my favorite among the six quartets Mozart dedicated to his friend Haydn, and I was delighted to discover from Alan Iglitzin’s customarily entertaining introductory remarks that it is his also. Very close in date to the “Linz” Symphony, the quartet shares that work’s characteristic blend of warmth and wit.

The performance by the Festival Quartet was indeed amply affectionate, in addition to being technically brilliant. It’s always a pleasure to watch second violinist Korine Fujiwara, whose frequent exchange of glances with Charles Weatherbee to her right and Clancy Newman to her left clearly helps to meld the various strands of the quartet texture in a seamless whole. She is, as it were, the fulcrum around which the ensemble turns. And Iglitzin himself is playing as splendidly as ever this season, trading musical ripostes with his colleagues in equally sure fashion.

Pianist Paul Hersh then joined, first, Weatherbee and Newman for Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, and then teamed with the whole Festival Quartet in a performance of Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet in C minor. The Schumann, played with passionate intensity, realized the full measure of the obsessive inwardness that more than ever came to dominate his late style.

The Dohnányi, which I confess I had never previously heard, is so far from being a late work that it actually stands as its composer’s Opus 1, written when he was just eighteen. Not being in the ordinary way much of a Dohnányi fan, I was most agreeably surprised by the sheer craftsmanship and expressive force of the piece, which apparently impressed Brahms greatly, and which shows obvious and entirely acceptable marks of that master’s influence.

There are, to be sure, occasional weak spots in the design of the work, but it is thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless, and for an 18-year-old the judgement it shows of exactly when to vary the instrumental format is remarkably sure: the music never bogs down for too long with one particular combination of instruments within the quintet – every now and then, a duet here, a pizzicato passage highlighting the cello there, emerges to diversify and lighten the texture. The performance seemed in every way impeccable, and Hersh’s familiar delicacy of touch was balanced beautifully with Newman’s finely focused cello tone and the firmly etched lines of the higher strings.

Bernard Jacobson