on Mondays" Features
by John W. Lambert
Psst! It's a Mozart anniversary season, marking the 250th anniversary of the master's birth on January 27, 1756. It would be hard to miss, given the proliferation of performances of Le Nozze di Figaro and many, many other works this year. But one of our most important Mozart events – a series, actually – has been little heralded thus far. It's being offered by pianist Frank Pittman and violinist Carol Chung, and it began on October 24 in Meredith's Carswell Concert Hall. Sonatas are the subject – the "late" sonatas for keyboard and violin, of which 16 that are complete enough to perform have come down to us. There are also 16 extant "early" sonatas, composed when Mozart was 10 or younger, that are, alas, not being sampled in this series of concerts; the "mature" ones that are being done date from his 22nd year.... How many people you know have composed sonatas – or anything – at the age of 6 or 10 or 22, for that matter? And how many childhood scribblings are worth more than a bemused glance after a century or two or more? Certainly not the products of mere mortals.... But Mozart was, well, Mozart. And these sonatas are miraculous things.
On October 24, Pittman and Chung brought four of them – nos. 30, in E-flat; 22, in e minor; 19, in C; and 28, in E-flat – to vivid life. She's a marvelous artist with tremendous musical understanding and all the technical skills she needs to play Mozart or just about anything else. This music seems simple enough, but it's material that separates sheep from goats, and more than a few big-name artists have crashed and burned with Mozart. Chung delivered. So, too, did Pittman, who knows that the piano is the key to many of these sonatas' most sublime passages – there's a reason that "keyboard" appears ahead of "violin" in proper citations of their formal titles. He was beset with Meredith's piano..., about which we've complained on previous occasions, but it was on reasonably good behavior this time, and its "harpsichord stop" kicked in only once or twice during the course of the hour-long program. Pittman is another of our local treasures, a splendid all-rounder whose appetite for music of all types is astonishingly wide-ranging. Like Chung, he has the chops and the keen insight that are prerequisites for successful performances of Mozart. And together, this pair could beat just about any big-name duo working today. Partnership like these folks exude is rare, indeed.
Some of the sonatas are substantial, large-scale pieces, like the opening and closing works played on this occasion. Others – like the two played between them – are smaller and somewhat shorter things in two movements, as opposed to the now-more-standard three. But even the "little" ones are huge in terms of their demands and the emotions that, in the correct hands, they can convey. There was lots of magic in Carswell on this Monday evening as the four sonatas unfolded before our ears. And one of the concert's greatest delights was that, unlike the typical "violin recital" program, there was more than just a taste of this and a nod to that. Concentrating on an all-Mozart program must have been stimulating for the artists. It was certainly stimulating for the listeners who stayed the course and heard the entire program, for the variety in these works is rich, and no two movements sound anything alike. The opener was elegantly realized and often spellbinding; the second one warmed the heart in different ways (while still dazzling the intellect, thanks to the high quality of the playing); the third, with its fiery first movement ending and its short and sweet conclusion, astonished by virtue of the composer's ability to pack so much into such a short span of time; and the last, with its captivating solo piano introduction to the slow movement and more radiant fiddle work, served at once as a glorious conclusion and a lure for the rest of these programs.
They'll resume on January 23, with a similar mix of works – K.547,
K.296, K.301, and K.526. (The numbering of these sonatas varies, so
reference to the Köchel catalog is probably the best solution....)
We'll post specifics in our calendar in due course. After that, there'll
be two more installments, on March 13 and April 10. Mark those calendars
now. Satisfaction is guaranteed, or your money back.... This is probably
the most important of the Mozart-year offerings, and very likely the
most revealing. Not since Michael Zenge played all the sonatas for
solo keyboard in his farewell season at UNC has there been anything
like it here. Be there!