It was a good week for historically informed performance: after a stunning concert of the Bachs by Café Zimmermann at the Library of Congress, it was out to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Sunday night for a duo recital by Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr. In charming prefatory remarks, Manze labeled the selection of one Schubert and three Mozart sonatas as "some of our favorites." A look back over their shared history of recording explains the familiarity evident between Manze and Egarr throughout the concert, in the sense of elasticity of rhythm and the give and take of ensemble playing. Furthermore, unlike their Carnegie Hall appearance earlier in the week, panned by Steve Smith, this concert was heard on instruments appropriate to the historical period. As explained by the performers, Egarr sat at a Thomas and Barbara Wolf copy of a fortepiano by Johann Schantz, and Manze played on his historical instrument, a violin reconditioned to 18th-century standards.
Manze / Egarr:
Schubert Sonatas (2007)
Mozart Sonatas (2005)
Corelli Sonatas (2003)
Handel Sonatas (2001)
Pandolfi Sonatas (1999)
The result was an extraordinary glimpse into the musical past, in the intimate setting of the sold-out Gildenhorn Recital Hall, with the soft spectrum of these two instruments suited so well to one another and to the smaller hall. The program began with the F major sonata, K. 376, where the second movement (Andante) stood out for its well-chosen tempo and graceful ornamentation, as did the third for its force and folksy, earthy color. The E-flat major sonata, K. 481, featured an Allegretto movement a little, happily, on the plucky, poky side, at the end of which Egarr toyed with listeners who were tempted to clap before he began the capping fourth movement. The final Mozart selection, the A major sonata, K. 526, again featured tempi that were to the gentle side, a giocoso but not overly fast first movement (Molto allegro) and a chipper but not breathless third movement (Presto). Again here it was the second movement that stood out, on the leisurely side of Andante, but exquisitely timed and shaped.
The major discovery was the Schubert D major sonata, D. 384, drawn from the duo's most recent CD of Schubert sonatas (see my review). Three unassuming movements each just over four minutes in length, the sonata begins with a plain and terse sonata form, only to be followed by a striking slow movement with a gorgeous B section in minor and a puckish Allegro vivace in 6/8. After that example, an encore was welcome in the last movement of the Schubert G minor sonata, D. 408, which featured some of the biggest, brashest playing of the evening. Egarr's playing seemed to outpace Manze, who was certainly in good form but with a few sour notes here and there. It may be that the changes in Manze's life recently -- he has retired from his associations with the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert to move to Stockholm and take up the position of chief conductor of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra -- signal an end to the centrality of playing the violin in his career. So much the worse for us.
Andrew Lindemann Malone, Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr (Washington Post, November 6)
Steve Smith, Period Music, This Time on Modern Instruments (New York Times, November 3)
Julie Amacher, New Classical Tracks: Kindred spirits (Minnesota Public Radio, October 24)
Manze and Egarr have four more appearances on a brief North American tour this week, in Los Angeles, Colorado, and Edmonton.