November 17, 1995

Allegro’s ‘Mozart’ Performance A Little Bit On The Bumpy Side

Travis Rivers Correspondent

“Viva Mozart” by Allegro Tuesday, Nov. 14, The Met

No knowledgeable person would ever claim Mozart’s music is easy. But fine performances of Mozart must always sound easy. “Difficult passages should flow like oil,” Mozart wrote.

Allegro’s “Viva Mozart” program at The Met Tuesday presented intelligently selected examples of some of the composer’s finest chamber music. It was performed by three respected local musicians - oboist David Dutton, fortepianist Beverly Biggs (Allegro’s co-directors) and cellist Wayne Smith - and two highly regarded guest artists - violinist Ingrid Matthews and violist Margriet Tindemanns. And the audience came close to being a full house, an impressive crowd for an evening devoted to 18th-century chamber music.

The Allegro performance, though, had difficult passages that made for bumpy listening.

The evening’s most flowing and effective playing came in slow movements or in sections where none of the musicians appeared to be under technical stress. In the variation movement of the Sonata in F for Piano and Violin, in the short Adagio of the Oboe Quartet and in the transcription of the motet “Ave verum corpus” for English horn and strings, the performers could concentrate on tonal beauty and delicacy of phrasing.

The most satisfying performance of an entire work was the Quartet for Oboe and Strings where Dutton shone in his command of the oboe’s varied tonal colors. The string parts are modest in their demands, and Matthews and Dutton seemed to have great fun with Mozart’s brief moments of melodic interplay. Beautiful, too, was Dutton’s performance on the darker-sounding English horn in “Ave verum corpus,” an anonymous transcription of a short Mozart motet.

Difficulties with intonation and an overall interpretive chilliness robbed vitality from Matthews’ and Tindemanns’ performance of the Duo in G major. I had high expectations when I saw this striking work listed on the program. Tindemanns, after all, had given outstanding performances on viola da gamba in recent Bach Festivals here. And Matthews, winner of the 1989 Erwin Bodky Competition for early music performance, has been highly praised as a violinist. There were beautiful moments, times when the players would change the character of their organ-like sustained notes with a warming touch of vibrato, for example, or times when one player would skillfully match the other’s unexpected turn of phrase or piquant ornament.

Mozart was the consummate pianist of his age, some would say of any age. He tailored the piano parts of almost all of this music to his own exceptional gifts.

Biggs is a sensitive player, as was clear in the Andante and Variations of the Sonata and in the Largetto of the E-flat major Piano Quartet. In fast passages, though - and there were many in Tuesday’s works - Bigg’s fingers became tentative. Clarity and accuracy suffered. The rhythmic flow was momentarily arrested. And Mozart’s fleet magic disappeared.

Allegro’s programs are always adventurous and interesting. The musical idealism of Biggs and Dutton and their commitment to historically informed performance practice is laudable. But the gap between those high ideals and the shortcomings in execution make for performances that are too often disappointing. That, I am sorry to say, was the case Tuesday.

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