Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mozart on original instruments. THE original instruments.

Mozart's viola.
It's the rare man or woman who is indifferent to the holy relic. Indeed, you could argue the cult of authenticity underpinning our entire system of cultural value finds its apotheosis in the reliquary. The "Mona Lisa" is priceless (while her digital image is free) because her lips were kissed by Leonardo's own brush. The value of everything from the Magna Carta to a signed baseball depends on its physical connection to the great figures of the past.

So you can imagine the atmosphere of anticipation in Jordan Hall earlier this week, as the crowd at BEMF waited to view (and hear) what in the early music world counts as something close to the True Cross: the actual violin and viola that once belonged to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the instruments that the man himself played, and from which his genius first sounded.

That both instruments, when they arrived onstage (courtesy of the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg), appeared absolutely ordinary, only added in a way to their poignant mystery. These humble tools gave birth to some of the greatest music ever written. Perhaps they weren't so much like the True Cross as the manger in Bethlehem.

Of course Mozart wasn't wealthy enough, or lucky enough, to own a Stradivarius - and frankly, his viola (at left) is something of a ruin (it was cut down after his death from a somewhat larger size, which may have flattened its tone). The violin's sound proved more beguiling, as it boasted a light, sweet middle register (but you can judge both for yourself when WCRB broadcasts the concert on June 16 at 3 pm).

Even given the instruments' somewhat compromised voices, however, the concert succeeded purely through the skill of its musicians. Two superb performers stood in for Mozart himself - Amandine Beyer consistently coaxed a lyrical richness from the violin, while Miloš Valent occasionally found a resonant sweet spot in the viola. They were often joined by the brilliant Kristian Bezuidenhout on fortepiano and Eric Hoeprich on baroque clarinet; and the lively ensemble between these early music stars conjured a kind of musical séance: Mozart's spirit seemed palpable onstage as the players induced in our minds something like the ghost of a concert that might once have been (indeed, the premiere of the "Kegelstatt" clarinet trio, essayed vibrantly by Valent, Bezuidenhout, and Hoeprich, may well have been played by Amadeus himself on this very viola).

We also heard a dazzling solo (the Prelude and Fugue for Piano in C Major, K. 394) from Bezuidenhout, whose touch is superbly calibrated to the fortepiano, and whose seemingly spontaneous interpretations always fascinate. Together Beyer and Valent took the Duo for Piano and Viola in G Major (K.423) at a spirited clip, but still found in it springs of startling emotion; Beyer triumphed again in the opening Sonata for Violin and Piano in C Major (K.303), particularly in its closing minuet, against a sparkling turn from Bezuidenhout.  One left the concert with the cherished memory of coming as close to Mozart the man as is possible these days in not one, but two different ways: through contact with these remarkable talismans of his life, and the musicianship of the great performers who are devoted to his legacy.

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