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Chamber Music at the Terrace Theater

Pleasantly filled with young(ish) audience members, the chatter and murmur in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater gave way to Mozart’s delightful sounds in the Prelude Festival Chamber Concert of the Kennedy Center Chamber players. The first offering was a suite from Don Giovanni arranged for all brass with percussion. There were some nice moments in the arrangement of the overture and the arias “Notte e giorno faticar,” “Là ci darem la mano,” and “Fin ch’han dal vino,” but even acknowledging the difficulty of the parts, the playing simply wasn’t very good. The players did neither themselves, nor Mozart, nor the audience much of a favor.

But if that curiosity was not to everyone’s liking, how can anyone resist the unalloyed beauty of the Clarinet Quintet that followed? Quintets of any sort are the high points in Mozart’s chamber writing, and this quintet is to many the primus inter pares. While the difference between a crack string quartet with solo clarinetist vs. an assembled chamber group playing the work is noticeable, it is mostly a matter of character. The former becomes a virtuoso piece for quartet and soloist, the latter is Hausmusik for five musicians. Paul Cigan contributed on the clarinet, his tone getting continuously warmer during the performance. Jennifer Mondic’s viola and Mark Evan’s cello provided the backbone. Similarly, Heather Ledoux-Green on second violin was above criticism… if anything her precise playing occasionally exposed first violinist Carola Tafoya Evans’ pitch ambiguity.

The Andante in C, K. 315, for flute may have been intended as an alternative finale for the G Major flute concerto, but in its stand-alone version with piano accompaniment this short delight was hardly less pleasing. His sensitive partner in this and the anonymous transposition and adaptation of parts of the 24th symphony (K.Anh.184) was Michael Adock. The short ditties these works are, they were exquisitely played.

The conclusion of this opening of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth (we’ll hear plenty more of his music in the next ten months) was the Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, K. 452. The work is beautiful enough to make for enchanting listening even in merely competent performances, but the five players – Lisa Emenheiser (who later that day played at the Corcoran’s Modern Music concert and Wednesday in the Barber Violin Concerto), piano; Kathryn Meany [sic] Wilson, oboe; Edward Cabarga, clarinet; Steve Wilson, bassoon; and Gabrielle Finck, horn – conjured near-sublime moments. Short of some excessive hissing on part of one of the reeds, it was all one could ask for. A nice birthday present for Mozart. The next Kennedy Center Chamber Player performance takes place on November 13th at 2PM.

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