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Chamber Music Review Print

All-Mozart Program Dazzles Small but Enthusiastic Crowd at UNC

March 26, 2010 - Chapel Hill, NC:

Memorial Hall was the venue for a remarkable all-Mozart concert, presented by stars of UNC’s Department of Music. The large room is not ideal for chamber music, but nearby Gerrard Hall was otherwise occupied, and Memorial’s where the good grand pianos live. The presenters optimized the placement of the instruments, seating the strings forward of the proscenium arch, and the sound and balance, too, were mostly good, although one could argue that a close-aboard shell would have given greater heft and weight to all the instruments. (Several folks who sat in the balcony told us the overall effect was excellent there.)

The program consisted of Mozart’s own arrangements for piano and (augmented) string quartet of the three concerti composed in Vienna in 1782-3 and published (in pre-Köchel days) as Op. 4. These concerti were composed for a real orchestra of strings with various pairs of wind and brass instruments – oboes, bassoons, and horns in the first (F Major) one, oboes and horns in the second (A Major), and oboes, bassoons, horns, and trumpets in the third (C Major). The chamber ensemble reductions are altogether admirable in highlighting the textures of the six instruments, instruments that, in this performance, were for the most part grandly and incisively played by outstanding artists. On the string side, the ensemble – Richard Luby and Dana Friedli, violins, Hugh Partridge, viola, Brent Wissick, cello, and Robert Link, bass – included some musicians who have vast experience in the “original instruments” movement, and that background surely helped shape the renditions of these three concerti. With the two violinists seated at opposite ends of the group (with the lower string voices in between), the delights of Mozart’s writing were always evident. The superior technical and artistic abilities of these players made for a constantly engaging evening, and of course there were never any problems with balance with the piano.

It was a rare treat to hear three soloists – Wonmin Kim, Mayron Tsong, and Thomas Otten – in one program. These artists and teachers from UNC’s Department of Music did themselves and Mozart, too, proud – these were sparkling and delightful performances that conveyed the deep emotion and drama of the scores in ways at once insightful and innovative. These were chamber music renditions of superior quality, highlighted by exceptional watchfulness and shared sensitivity.

Kim and Company set the stage admirably with a smooth and altogether admirable reading of the Concerto in F, K.413. Tsong’s performance of the A Major Concerto (K.414) was, appropriately, slightly larger and, to these ears, more dramatic – and her cadenzas were particularly impressive. After the intermission, Otten reminded everyone that these are living, breathing works in which freedom within certain interpretive parameters is always welcome and refreshing, too – he played along with the strings in the introduction to the C Major Concerto (K.415) but had plenty of character and flair in reserve for the solos that grew from the ensemble like grand flowers in spring.

Overall, this was a class act, demonstrating that the piano department at UNC is in exceptional hands and conclusively suggesting that few things could be finer than hearing Mozart at Carolina when musicians of this caliber are assembled for the task.

PS Praise to the series presenters for the informative program, graced by notes from Laurie McManus.