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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born at 8 o'clock in the evening of January 27, 1756. While this concert may have been off by two days, it showed creativity and imagination by pairing the composer's chamber music for three wind instruments with strings. The concert took place in Hill Hall's Moeser Auditorium and featured music faculty members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The wind soloists were flutist Laura Stevens, oboist Anna Lampidis, and clarinetist Donald Oehler. The string players were violinists Nicholas DiEugenio, Leah Peroutka (in K.581), violist Sam Gold, and cellist Brent Wissick.
Mozart wrote to his father, "I am powerless to write for an instrument which I cannot bear." An amateur flute player, Ferdinand Dejean, had promised the younger Mozart 200 gulden to the straightened composer for "three small, easy flute concertos and a few quartets." When he complained to Leopold, he was struggling to fulfill the order. He completed only two concertos and three quartets for which he received 96 gulden from the unsatisfied Dejean. Only the first quartet and the two concertos have entered the repertoire.
The Quartet in D, K. 285 (1777-78), for flute, violin, viola, and cello, is in three movements: Allegro, Adagio, and Rondo. Flutist Stevens displayed superb breath control, refined color and tone, and very clear articulation. The strings gave her consistently fine support in the gallant piece. The slow movement was most charming, with Stevens' yearning melody spun above poignant plucked strings. Continuing without a pause, the exuberant rondo was full of delights, not least violinist DiEugenio's brief solos, arising from the accompaniment, in dialog with the flute.
During Mozart's visit to Munich in 1780-81, he was impressed by the brilliant virtuosity of Friedrich Ramm, oboist in the court orchestra. The scoring of the oboe quartet gives full scope to display the technical mastery of the soloist while the strings are scaled back to keep from covering the wind instrument. Mozart was attracted to the oboe's higher range as well as its color potential.
The Quartet in F, K.370 (1781), for oboe, violin, viola, and cello, is in three movements: Allegro, Adagio, and Rondo: Allegro. Oboist Lampidis' playing was a constant pleasure, with superbly focused tone, fine color palette, seamless breath control, and agile articulation. The chamber music give-and-take is much more advanced in this piece. The countermelodies between Lampidis and DiEugenio as well as contrapuntal elements were well brought out in the first movement. Lampidis darkened her tone nicely for her mournful, pleading second movement melody. The lilting rondo was delightful, with bright ornamental flourishes enriching the oboe part. The contrapuntal lines came off beautifully as did the famous 13-bar polyrhythmic section with the oboe playing in common time (4/4) against the strings in 6/8.
Mozart was so taken with sound of the clarinet as played by the virtuoso Anton Stadler that he composed two of his greatest late works for him. Stadler played an instrument with an extension which allowed it to go down to "c." The composer was attracted to the clarinet's full, mellow lower register as well as the brilliant tones of its high notes. Alas, Stadler was a reprobate who sponged off the profligate composer and sold the manuscripts of the concerto and quintet to their loss. In the published scores, transpositions were necessary in order for the pieces to be played on a modern clarinet. The HIP movement of recent years has led to reconstructions of Stadler's original instrument.
The great Quintet in A, K.581, for clarinet, two violins, viola, and cello, is in four movements: Allegro, Larghetto, Menuetto, and Allegretto con variazioni. Oehler gave a superb interpretation and performance of the standard modern clarinet version. His breath control was excellent while his lower register was mellow and rich and his high notes were brilliantly focused. The famous Larghetto was a highlight, with Oehler's dreamy cantilena timelessly floating above muted strings. The two trios in the Menuetto, a melancholy one for strings alone and a lively folk-like dance for clarinet shared with the first violin, were delightful. The vivacious finale with its set of six variations with its mercurial moods brought the quintet to a brilliant conclusion. My favorite variation, No. III, featuring the viola, was strongly characterized by Gold's full, rich, mournful tone. It always reminds me that Mozart often played the viola in intimate chamber music with friends. This was a wonderful celebration of the composer's genius!