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Review: Chamber music concert shows glimpse of Mozart's process

| Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 11:33 a.m.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Mozart Festival gained greatly in dimension from its collaboration with Chamber Music Pittsburgh for a concert featuring symphony musician and pianist Robert Levin on April 29 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

The program featured two masterpieces and three other pieces created by Levin from sketches by Wolfgang Amade Mozart. Although the composer's middle name is more often encountered as Amadeus, he never used that word. He signed his name in Latin, French or German: Amadeo, Amade or, Gottlieb, meaning beloved of God.

Levin's scores were intriguing to encounter and offered a glimpse into Mozart's workshop. Mozart wrote only 31 measures of the first movement of a Violin Sonata in G, K. 546a. The rest of the movement is by Levin, who possesses exceptional command of Mozart's compositional idiom.

Mozart did complete the Fantasia in C minor, K. 396 as a piano solo. Levin's version is for violin and piano because Mozart had thought initially of writing the music that way.

The third piece was the first movement of a Violin Sonata in B flat major, K. 372, which Mozart didn't finish. Levin's version is superior to a much earlier completion of the score by Maximilian Stadler.

All three pieces were impressively performed by symphony concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley and Levin, whose many strengths at the keyboard include admirable attention to the bass line. He performed on a wonderful rented Steinway which sounded far superior to the pianos owned by Carnegie Music Hall.

Curios behind them, the musicians continued with an exciting performance of Mozart's Piano Quartet in G Minor, with violist Meng Wang and principal cellist Anne Martindale Williams joining them. Mozart enthusiasts know his music written in G minor has special emotional intensity, roughly comparable to the key of B minor for Johann Sebastian Bach.

Levin proved himself a sensitive ensemble player, adjusting his dynamics well when playing with the string instruments. But when he was on his own he tended to play too loudly, as though he was performing Beethoven rather than Mozart. This was true of the Fantasia as well. Levin's ornamentation was enjoyable.

The concert concluded with Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, a deeply beautiful piece that is among the composer's most popular creations. Principal clarinet Michael Rusinek, a cool musician with fabulous technique, offered his own lovely ornamentation.

Violinist Christopher Wu joined the string players who had performed in the G minor Piano Quartet. They were so well matched one wondered what they might have done if instead of Levin's reconstructions the concert had included a Mozart string quartet.

Mark Kanny is classical music for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com

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