Recital Review

Superlative All-Mozart Piano-Violin Recital Caps St. Stephen's Season

Christian Steiner

Nicholas Kitchen

Sophie Zhai

Andrew Tyson

Event  Information

Durham -- ( Sun., May. 1, 2016 )

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church: All Mozart Program
Performed by Nicholas Kitchen, violin; Andrew Tyson, piano
At the Door: $25; Ages 18 and Under: Free -- Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church , or   , -- 4:00 PM

May 1, 2016 - Durham, NC:

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was well-filled with music lovers eagerly anticipating a survey of works for piano and violin by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While all of Mozart's duo sonatas are labeled "for keyboard and violin obbligato," the four sonatas played reflect the composer's increasingly equal treatment of both instruments as well as the early development of Romantic qualities in Classical works. The church's and Hope Valley's favorite musical sons, pianist Andrew Tyson and violinist Nicholas Kitchen, were the performers.

The first two sonatas are from a set called the "Palatine" Sonatas because of the dedication to Maria Elizabeth, the Electress of the Palatine. They are products of the ill-fated tour Mozart took, with his mother, from Salzburg via Mannheim to Paris. He had literally been
"kicked out" of his post with the Archbishop of Salzburg and he was seeking another patronage position. Sonatas for "clavicembalo" and violin by Joseph Schuster were popular in Mannheim, so Mozart sought to cash in by composing his own set, in the course of which he expanded the presence of the violin well beyond its obbligato role. Both, like those of Schuster's, are in two movements.

Sonata in G, K.301, is one of four Mozart composed in Mannheim. Its opening Allegro con spitito is in regular sonata form but held together by a refrain that is constantly modified. Mozart blended French design with German dance rhythm in the following, very gently paced Allegro. Kitchen's precise intonation and warm tone were immediately obvious. This was paired with Tyson's remarkably clear articulation and subtle control of dynamics and color.

It is hard not to infer Mozart's tragic circumstances, including the death of his mother and the failure to raise funds in Paris, in the intensity of Sonata in E minor, K.304. It is one of the composer's rare works in a minor key and its opening Allegro is one of his most dramatic. All of its sparsely composed themes are closely related. Perhaps the Tempo di Menuetto was a lamentation for his mother's death. It is in the rhythm of a minuet but in a rondo form while its theme is a Baroque-like descending bass line.

Both Tyson and Kitchen pulled out the stops to recreate the intense drama of the first movement. Their careful phrasing brought out all the undercurrent of pathos in the deeply moving second movement without ever crossing the line into sentimentality.

The first half of the concert ended with Sonata in B-flat, K.454. It was composed in Vienna in 1784 for the 23-year-old Italian violinist Regina Strinasacchi. She so impressed Mozart's father, Leopold, that he wrote to his daughter Nannerl: "in general, I think that a woman who has talent plays with more expression than a man." The composer was notoriously late with scores and this work's premiere was a classic example. At K.454’s premiere, he had written out only the violin part. Mozart accompanied her with a blank paper on the keyboard, much to the consternation of Emperor Joseph II, who spied this through his opera glasses.*

This, along with the remaining three, finds complete equality and interdependence between the piano and violin. K.454 opens with a very slow, long introduction and has a concerto-like brilliance and richness of texture. Mozart originally marked the middle movement Adagio but changed it to Andante. He applied bold chromatic modulations to a melodic intensity worthy of an adagio. The Allegretto is a playful rondo bursting with melodic ideas. Kitchen and Tyson soared through this sonata with a breath-taking intensity. What refined dynamics! The exchange of instrumental roles was like watching a high trapeze act without a net.

Post intermission opened with a delightful, light set of Six Variations in G minor on "Hélas, j'ai perdu mon amant," K.360. This was followed a magnificent performance of Sonata in A, K.526, which most critics consider Mozart's greatest violin sonata. It was composed around the time he was completing Don Giovanni. There is a complete integration of both instruments with even-handed musical distributions. It is dynamic, bursting with melodic ideas, texturally rich, and uses counterpoint with a seemingly easy fluency. The fast paced opening Molto allegro concisely develops five melodic themes. The sumptuous Andante is dominated by a repeated, ominous bass theme first heard in the piano and features hair pen alternations of major and minor keys that are a foretaste of Schubert's style. A bevy of themes in the Presto finale are based on a theme drawn from Violin Sonata, Op. 5 by the recently deceased gamba virtuoso Carl Freidrich Abel, a friend of Mozart.

Kitchen and Tyson met the devilish demands of K.526 in spades. Intonation was immaculate throughout despite the tempos, especially in the finale, or abrupt changes of dynamics or phrasing. The clarity of Tyson's articulation of the keyboard part was remarkable throughout. The refined and passionate bowing of Kitchen was breath taking. The duo was recalled multiple times by a prolonged and well-earned standing ovation.

*Edited, corrected 5/3/16.