The brainchild of Mallarmé's artistic director Suzanne Rousso, the HIP (Historically Informed Performance) Festival calls on a host of talented local musicians who perform on period instruments. These performances give the avid and casual music lover the treat of hearing the music of earlier composers as it was conceived and heard by them. This year the festival features some 16 events from February 2 through February 25.
This opening concert at Baldwin Auditorium, titled "Commissioning Mozart," featured music commissioned under different circumstances and with different results.
Leading things off, Matvey Lapin, violin, and Randall Love, fortepiano, performed Luigi Boccherini's Sonata in D Major, Op. 5, No. 4, written for Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy, who was known as a player of great skill as well as a composer. At this time, the fortepiano was not yet widely known, and thus the demand for published works was not great. The 1783 edition was published as Six Favourite Sonatas for the Piano Forte or Harpsichord, with an accompaniment obligato for a Violin. Thus it is clear that the fortepiano was intended as the solo instrument in these pieces. Nevertheless, Lapin and Love made graceful ensemble in conversations between the two instruments. Arpeggios and runs matched and supported thematic material in either instrument. The countermelody obligato passages were sweetly sung by the baroque violin. The second movement, Allegro Assai, danced joyfully, and the third movement, a Rondo in tempo di minuetto, was a delightful ride home.
Four Duos for harpsichord and fortepiano, also by de Joey, are relatively simple in character but entertaining; they were masterfully performed by Elaine Funaro, harpsichord, and Love, fortepiano. The Duos were composed for performance at de Joey's popular and lively musical salons where it is likely her neighbor and longtime friend Benjamin Franklin, the colonial ambassador to France, was present.
The Quartet for String Trio and Harpsichord by Mark Janello, composed on a commission from Funaro for Mallarmé, was heard in its world premiere on this occasion. Funaro is president of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America and artistic director of Aliénor, a nonprofit organization that sponsors a worldwide competition for new harpsichord music. She was joined in this performance by Lapin, Rousso, and Stephanie Vial, cellist.
Janello holds degrees from Harvard and Duke along with his Ph.D. in Music Composition and Theory from the University of Michigan. He was appointed chair of the Department of Music Theory at Peabody Institute in 2015.
His comments on the Quartet: "The challenge and opportunity for the composer in writing for early instruments is to create something that grows out of and responds to the world that the instruments and players inhabit but [that] lives in the present. You will hear plenty of Baroque gestures and harmony here but the rhythm and how the harmonies are strung together are my own." One other note: in the Baroque era, the harpsichord was commonly assigned a supportive and background role, but here the composer treats it as an equal to the string instruments.
The first movement, marked Allegro non troppo, is a conversation between varying groups of instruments, with quiet duets and trios in the middle section, after which all come back together for a tutti conclusion. The musicians played the dickens out of this music, frolicking with shifting rhythms and expressing harmonic surprises as old friends.
The second movement, "Distant Lullaby," is a song of shifting harmonies over a Baroque-style cannon. It faded away gradually, until nothing was left but the lingering memory of the song. The performance was touched with ethereal mystery and soft mysticism.
In the concluding movement, "Viola Hornpipe Rondo," a jaunty jig-like theme is heard several times with a variety of musical interventions occurring between. There is some exploration of contrasts ‒ light and dark, joy and woe, happy and sad. The viola plays a lead role, but there are plenty of alternative combinations of instruments. One could truly sense the pleasure of these artists in performance as the work came to a strong and positive end.
In 1785, Mozart was commissioned by the relatively new music publisher, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, to compose a (disputed) number of piano quartets – then a relatively new form of chamber music. Mozart completed only two: K.78 in G minor and K.492 in E-flat. As it turns out the new form and the difficulty of Mozart's music affected sales negatively. Hoffmeister pleaded with Mozart to "Write more popularly, or else I can neither print nor pay for anything of yours!" After a bit of squabbling, the contract was canceled. Still, the composer and publisher remained friends and associates.
The Quartet in G minor for fortepiano and strings, K.478, is one of only a few works Mozart composed in his most dramatic key. It certainly goes beyond the conventional character of similar chamber works, mostly composed for amateur musicians. The lower strings are given more than the usual accompaniment role, and the piano part calls for virtuosity and musical blending with the texture of the strings.
The powerful first movement, Allegro, opens with a dramatic theme followed by a more lyrical and introspective development. The performing artists ‒ Love, Lapin, Rousso, and Vial ‒ brought out every changing mood with precise ensemble and studied balance. The Andante second movement carried over some of the unsettled nature of the first. The development of the Rondo, after leading us through a stirring journey, built up to a stunning diminished-chord false cadence, after which the quartet launched into the concluding passage, ending in a persuasive cadence. This work of superb genius was performed with technical skill and artistic sensitivity. The HIP rendition on period instruments revealed why this approach has so much to offer.
The HIP Festival continues through February 25. For details, see our calendar.