Diverse Audience for Mozart Masterpieces Provides Reassuring Continuity

United StatesUnited States Mozart: Julio Elizalde (piano), Charles Weatherbee and Korine Fujiwara (violins), Alan Iglitzin (viola), Jennifer Culp (cello), Teddy Abrams (piano, clarinet), Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 13.7.2013 (BJ)

Mozart:Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K. 415;
String Quartet in A major, K. 464;
Andante and Variations in G major for piano duet, K. 501;
Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581

Among the pleasures of observing Charles Weatherbee and Korine Fujiwara in performance is seeing their mutual communication, with eyes that light up at every crucial musical exchange—the kind of collaborative artistry that defines the chamber music experience. On this particular occasion, I was struck also by a more general pleasure: the audience around me, all persons of the 21st century, most of them Americans, some from other countries, riveted in attention to four works by an Austrian who has been dead for more than 200 years. Truly, it is comforting to realize that there is some continuity in our world.

It was a program jam-packed with mature Mozart masterpieces. K. 415 in C major is perhaps not one of the composer’s greatest piano concertos, but it is a very fine one. It’s more familiar in full orchestral dress, but Mozart sanctioned performance with just a string quartet partnering the solo, and Julio Elizalde and his colleagues fashioned an account of irresistible zest and technical adroitness.

Along with Weatherbee and Fujiwara, Alan Iglitzin on viola and Jennifer Culp on cello constituted a quartet of notable unanimity, in which there was no temptation to single out any one participant’s contribution for special praise. This stylistic blend also helped to make the performance of the A-major String Quartet that followed a delight. In his introductory remarks, festival director Iglitzin observed that this is probably the least often played of Mozart’s last and greatest quartets. If that is so, it may be because the work’s musical argument is pursued with unremitting concentration and contrapuntal intricacy. Again, the performance was exemplary both in technical respects and in capturing the expressive flow of the music.

The most arresting passage, perhaps, comes late in the Andante, a slow movement that was clearly in Beethoven’s mind when—having copied Mozart’s quartet out in the course of his studies—he came to compose his own early A-major Quartet. Mozart’s exquisitely crafted variations debouch here into a drumming motif that eventually passes from the cello to the other instruments in turn, and Jennifer Culp—who was apparently playing the work for the first time—caught its obsessive quality to perfection.

After intermission came the one unfamiliar work on the program, the Andante and Variations, K. 501, and it brought a welcome return appearance by Teddy Abrams. Taking the second part with Elizalde in this tuneful and polished piece, he proved a thoroughly accomplished pianist. Then it was time to hear him on his prime instrument, the clarinet, in the wonderful quintet Mozart wrote for that instrument and strings.

The warmth of tone and subtlety of phrasing remembered from his playing in previous seasons was once again in evidence, and made for a similarly satisfying blend with his string partners. Violins and cello were on song, and Iglitzin phrased his nagging viola figure in the finale’s third variation with relish. The only oddity in the performance was the omission of the first da capo of the minuet, which curiously turned the movement’s traditional A-B-A-C-A form into an untraditional—and surely un-Mozartean—A-B-C-A. Abrams said later that he thought the expressive arc of the movement worked more convincingly this way. For myself, I tend to think that Mozart, as usual, knew exactly what he was doing.

Bernard Jacobson