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Olympic Music Festival 2009 (2) - Mozart: Ellen Jewett and Stefan Hersh, violins; Alan Iglitzin and Mara Gearman, violas; Elizabeth Simkin, cello; Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 22.8.2009 (BJ)

String Quartet in D minor, K. 421
String Quintet in B flat major, K. 174
String Quintet in C major, K. 515

It is astonishing to observe the effect that a seemingly abstract assemblage of musical sounds can have on the emotions of listeners. Concluding the first half of this all-Mozart program, the finale of the B-flat-major Quintet written while the composer was still in his teens projected so irresistible a sense of good-humored repartee that most members of the audience could be seen strolling around during the intermission with their faces wreathed in blissful smiles.

The contrast with the work that preceded it could hardly have been more extreme. Mozart’s first essay in the string-quintet genre is a relatively modest piece, undemanding in its emotional character, whereas K. 421, the second of the six quartets he dedicated to Haydn, is typical of his minor-mode compositions in its obsession with darkly dramatic expression.

Both works were finely played. But the most satisfying musical experience of the afternoon came after intermission, with the great C-major String Quintet of 1787. The first movement, one of Mozart’s most spacious chamber-musical creations, immediately illuminated the plane of mastery the composer had reached by his early thirties. With its deliciously offhand trio section, the suave minuet (played second on this occasion–Mozart’s final intentions regarding movement-order are not certainly known) provided the perfect foil. Then came the Andante, with its amazing dialogue between first violin and first viola; in these gradually intensifying lines, reminiscent of the ground-breaking Sinfonia concertante Mozart had written for the same two instruments seven years earlier, violist Alan Iglitzin enjoyed a well-deserved spell in the spotlight, matching Ellen Jewett’s violin line stroke for eloquent stroke.

But Mozart was not one to take himself too seriously. The finale brilliantly relaxes the emotional pressure, and its mischievous wit, set forth with skill by all five players, once again had the audience smiling. It was good to see, by the way, that Mozart had brought out an even larger crowd than the more romantic programs of preceding weeks in this delightful summer series.

Bernard Jacobson

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