Madison Music Review Header
HomeReviews Features Profiles Links
Up Previous Index Next Down
Token Creek: Mozart, Beethoven

Mozart: Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 382
Mozart: Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 533/494
Mozart: Violin Sonata in E-Flat Major, K. 380
Mozart: Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K. 617a
Beethoven: Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2

Rose Mary Harbison, violin
Rhonda Rider, cello
Robert Levin, piano


For the third of its seven events the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival offered an unusual program of Mozart and Beethoven that delighted the capacity audience Sunday afternoon at the Festival Barn on Hwy. 19. It's not unusual to hear really good chamber music throughout the year in the Madison area, and this concert was in every respect in the highest rank.

"Mozart," John Harbison remarked in his introduction to the program, "was a man of the theater, putting emotions on stage with human gestures. Beethoven, by contrast, sought to express something beyond merely human gesture, to suggest moral enrichment through his music."

The point is more subtle than the words themselves convey, perhaps, but in the music it comes through. Pianist Robert Levin's first solo offering stated the Mozart case clearly. The composer's own arrangement for piano of the Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 382 directly displays the ebullient joy and the aching yearning of the opera's materials. Combining a little prelude by Mozart with apparently improvised music, Levin then connected the overture without pause to one of Mozart's largest mature piano works, the Sonata in F Major, K. 533/494. This very unusual tactic actually highlighed the far more formal nature of the sonata's big opening allegro, with its heavenly development section and lovely coda. Lyrical introspection dominated the andante, giving way to the rondo allegetto's suave contours.

Levin was joined by violinist Rose Mary Harbison in a wonderful performance of the "Sonata in E-Flat Major, K. 380," the poignancy of which hinted at the Beethoven still to come. The extremely brilliant outer movements are somewhat dominated by the keyboard, but in the andante con moto, Harbison brought forth the music's touching delicacy very convincingly.

Mozart's very first keyboard piece, written just after his 5th birthday, takes less than half a minute, but it was a perfect setup for Levin's completely magical pianissimo performance of the composer's last keyboard piece, the "Adagio, K. 617a," scored originally for glass harmonica. That Levin could so completely evoke the ethereal sound of that instrument was nothing less than a miracle.

Miraculous barely covers it, however, for the program's final work, the Beethoven "Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2," for which Rhonda Rider, a superb cellist, joined Levin and Harbison in a performance as fine as any I've ever heard. All four movements of this extremely difficult piece were exemplary, missing not a single opportunity for great beauty and technical panache. At its conclusion, the audience let out immediate shouts of "Bravo!" and jumped to its feet. Me too.

Isthmus, August, 1997
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson

Up Previous Index Next Down