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In a few words before beginning to play, violinist Elizabeth Field explained that, contrary to what might have otherwise been expected, the program would begin with Mozart's Divertimento (K.563); "We wanted to do the heavy lifting first." I could not agree more with her statement, "This is music for connoisseurs." And at the same time, this six-movement (or per Mozart – pezzi – pieces) is, under the bows of this trio, lucidly simple. Then there would be another piece of Mozart's incredible complexity expressed in the simplest terms, and one shakes one's inner head and says, "How did he do that?" The answer, of course, is another question:"How did they, the trio and Mozart, pull that off yet again?" From my seat I could read Field's score without my glasses (the Music House is as intimate as a double bed), and the brilliance of Mozart's writing and the facility of the trio's playing was almost more than I could keep up with. I would have been happy to listen to this composition through two or three more times at the one sitting, to catch the nuances.
The opening allegro begins with a unison passage worthy of Mozart's Musical Joke – jerking, scratching, rough; all of a sudden the three voices divide in sublime harmony, in this case precisely in tune. These three players, extremely historically informed, were playing gut-strung instruments set up in the style of the period. With only the slightest of tuning between movements, they maintained the highest level of perfect intonation.
The second movement, Adagio, prominently featured the sonorous viola playing of Allison Edberg Nyquist; her instrument, of normal length, is noticeably broad and produces in her hands a correspondingly broad sound.
In the Menuetto: Allegretto-Trio, the trio brought a deliberate attention to phrasing that was as beautiful as it was subtle.
The succeeding movements were similarly fine: vigorous, sprightly, subtle, precise! This piece by itself would have been enough for a concert. The only thing I can imagine better would have been a repeat of the whole piece. I am confident that had this been the concluding piece of the evening, it would have elicited a standing ovation, with whistles and foot-stomping!
Following an inspiring intermission at the dining room wine bar, Nyquist changed to violin for the rest of the evening. In Boccherini's Trio Per Due Violini et Basso (Op. 2/4; in D, 1760) the cello is allotted a part in a very high register, showing off the skill, in this case, of Stephanie Vial (in another case the movement could just as likely shown off the inadequacies of a lesser player). It was clear in this trio that basso was a purely relative concept to Boccherini.
Next followed the Adagio and Allegro from Joseph Haydn's Divertimento in B minor (Hob.V:3; 1750-66); the listed third movement, Tempo di Menuet, was omitted in favor of playing an additional movement from the succeeding piece. While Haydn never wrote a dud note in my opinion, it took some serious work by the trio to make this piece sparkle.
The Trio Concertant Pour Deux Violons et Basse (Op.18/4; D, c.1773-95) was programmed as only the first movement, Allegro moderato; the diminishment of the previous piece was made up by adding the Rondo allegretto here. Again, brilliant and tender playing by the trio.
For an amusing seasonal finale, the trio returned to Haydn and his arrangement of the Welsh folk song "Nos Galen," with six verses of words "written for this work by Mrs. [Anne] Grant [presumably of Laggan, Scotland]." Audience participation was called for, with singing led by Nyquist. When you know the chorus is "Fa la la la la la la la la," you can easily identify the tune familiarly sung to "Deck the hall…." This charming and humanizing touch was a delicate easing of the audience back into a not always so well tuned world.