The National Chamber Ensemble opened its ninth season in style at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre on Saturday with a program entitled Mozart and Friends. After introductory remarks by guest host and former president of the Hecht Company Frank Guzzetta, the concert opened with the Trio in E Major, K. 542 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The trio is one of Mozart’s most beautiful, displaying the composer at his mature best, and richly deserves to be performed more often. Performing were pianist Kathryn Brake, violinist/Artistic Director Leo Sushansky, and cellist Vasily Popov. The ensemble’s playing was exemplary throughout, with each instrument having moments to shine. Kathryn Brake’s articulation and lightness of touch were perfectly suited to the music and were complemented by the sweetness of tone of the strings.
The second work on the program was the Piano Quartet in C Major, No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven, written when the composer was 14 years old. The polished writing of the young Beethoven truly surprised, and one hears moments in the composition that hint at some of his early piano sonatas. The music has no tragic elements but displays an unreservedly happy and leisurely quality, not unlike a sunny spring day. The group, joined by violist Uri Wassertzug, played with great energy and refinement. I especially enjoyed the slow movement with the intricate string solos played by Sushansky and Wassertzug.
After intermission, Sushansky and Wassertzug returned to perform the duo for violin and viola Op.19, No. 2 by Franz Anton Hoffmeister, Mozart’s friend and publisher. Hoffmeister wrote duos, trios, quartets, operas, and 44 symphonies, most of which have—sadly—been forgotten. The music (completely new to me as, surely, to most of the audience) was a revelation, displaying great beauty, charm, and lyricism. The Adagio was almost like a bel canto aria. Both instrumentalists played with authority and sensitivity. Sushansky especially displayed a vocal singing approach to the phrasing, which was thrilling.
The Allegro gave both instrumentalists a chance to show their virtuosity, bringing calls of “bravo” from the appreciative audience. The group returned for the concluding work on the program, Mozart’s Quartet in G Minor, K. 478 for piano and strings. It is a work of great drama in which Brake demonstrated mastery in her phrasing and control of the technical demands of the music. Her energy was matched by the group to bring this extraordinary work vividly to life.
A very special part of the program was the lively introduction of the works by the musicians, a familiar and welcome feature for regular attendees at the National Chamber Ensemble concerts. A different artist introduced each work bringing an interesting, personal, and sometimes humorous perspective to the music. Sometimes when artists speak on stage, one wishes they would leave the speeches alone and just play the music. The National Chamber Ensemble’s interactive approach, however, only enhanced the music that followed and, as always, made the concert into a personal and inclusive experience for the audience. What a commendable way to open the season!
Mozart and Friends was performed by The National Chamber Ensemble on October 17, 2015 at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre – 1611 North Kent Street, in Arlington, VA. For information on future concerts, go to their website.