BERLIN QUARTET WEAVES A MOZART FANTASY
By Lawrence Budmen
The oboe produces one of the most alluring instrumental timbres. While its sound and tone can be plaintive, the instrument's gorgeous well of sound can also sparkle and charm. One of the first composers to exploit this enchanting wind instrument was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). The musical relationship between the work of Mozart and Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) runs deep. Just as Rossini based his teenage String Sonatas on Mozart's Divertimenti, K.136-138 (often referred to as the "Salzburg Symphonies" with their imaginative writing for string ensemble), the Italian composer's trademark instrumentation in his opera overtures owes much to the genius from Salzburg. The verve and brio of Mozart's "Oboe Quartet in F Major," K.370 is irresistible. This elegant score received a stellar performance from oboe virtuoso Fabian Schafer and his colleagues of the Phantasy Quartett, Berlin at the Mainly Mozart Festival concert on May 30, 2004 at the Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables.
This 1782 score is one of Mozart's most enchanting creations. Like the composer's Oboe Concerto, the music embraces the instrument's expressive possibilities. From the first notes of the opening Allegro, Schafer commanded attention with his beautiful tone, crisp articulation, and musical sensitivity. The Adagio is a brief Cavatina that emerged with an almost operatic coloration. The delightful Rondeau: Allegro finale is Rossinian indeed. Schafer's vivacious playing carried all before it. He made the music dance in the best Italianate manner. The lively, invigorating playing of violinist Sophia Jaffe, violist Benjamin Rivinius (principal viola of the Berlin Symphony) and cellist Isa von Wedemeyer (a member of Daniel Barenboim's Staatskapelle Berlin) was outstanding. This first rate ensemble plays with such spontaneity and energy that the music really comes alive!
The origins of the "Oboe Quartet in G Major" are dubious. At various times, it has been attributed to Haydn or Johann Christian Bach. Yet it sounds like neither composer's work. The lovely melodies in this score sound vaguely Italian. Perhaps this is the work of a Venetian or Neapolitan composer of the era or perhaps a member of the Mannheim composers' group. In any case, this score's beautiful instrumental writing and melodic inspiration are the work of a musical craftsman. Schafer and his fellow Berliners played it with engaging vivacity.
The three string players gave a vigorous performance of Mozart's "Divertimento in E-flat Major," K.563. This string trio dates from 1788 - a year that marked the beginning of Mozart's downward spiral and final tragedy. There is nothing remotely tragic or elegiac about this score. This entertainment music abounds in graceful melodies, springy rhythms, and instrumental ingenuity. Under Ms. Jaffe's exuberant leadership, the opening Allegro had tremendous energy. The lovely Adagio featured beautifully integrated ensemble playing. The two Menuettos were marked by strong accents and idiomatic flair. In the Allegro finale, Jaffe, von Wedemeyer, and Rivinius produced instrumental vigor and subtly inflected turns of musical phrasing. A superb performance of one of Mozart's most unique works!
Phantasy Quartett, Berlin represents a new generation of musicians from a great musical tradition. The superb artistry of Fabian Schafer marks him as a worthy successor to the great European oboist Heinz Holliger. The combination of instrumental mastery and interesting repertoire (from the Classical era) was perfect for an afternoon musicale on a holiday weekend - great music played by wonderful young artists!