CamPac makes good on Mozart’s sweeping sonata

Georrge Gelles, News-Press Correspondent
March 16, 2009

While completing “Don Giovanni” in the summer of 1787, Mozart composed the greatest of his sonatas for violin and piano, K. 526 in A major. He made his earliest efforts in the genre a generation earlier, when he was still a pre-teen. In the early 1760s he composed a pair of sonatas for fashionable Paris, and though they were the first of his works to be published, they are nonetheless inconsequential. With rote keyboard writing and rudimentary violin parts, K. 6 and 7 (aka Opus 1), are never heard today, even though Mozart penned them.

The late A major Sonata, which Camerata Pacifica offered Friday afternoon in Hahn Hall, is something else again. It synthesized everything Mozart had learned about composing for violin and keyboard, and even more importantly, it provided a perfect vehicle for the expression of a lifetime of emotions. Few pages in all Mozart are as breathtakingly beautiful as the Sonata’s slow movement. It’s music to make your head spin.

Friday’s performance of the slow movement could have made you a believer. Violinist Catherine Leonard and pianist Warren Jones dug deep, and together they made something memorable. Mr. Jones does the heavy lifting here — as in all these sonatas, the keyboard’s role is primary — and his playing was gorgeous. In this wonderful movement, Ms. Leonard played with affecting sentiment and a sound that was clean and lithe. Elsewhere, the fullness of her tone was less appropriate, especially in the quicksilver finale, where cloying sweetness trumped clarity.

Brahms’ Clarinet Trio was one of the dividends of the composer’s 1891 encounter with Richard M0x9fhlfeld, then principal clarinetist in the orchestra supported by the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, in central Germany. Though Brahms considered his composing career a closed book, his vast admiration for M0x9fhlfeld (or Fr0x8aulein Klarinette, as he suggestively called him) led to four more compositions, most notably the Clarinet Quintet, but also two sonatas for clarinet and piano, and the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, which we also heard Friday.

M0x9fhlfeld, by all accounts, played like an angel, investing the clarinet with the dramatic warmth of a mezzo and the clarion virtuosity of a coloratura. You hear this full expressive range in the Clarinet Quintet, one of the repertory’s unquestioned masterworks, and also in the two Sonatas. In the Trio, these capacities are oddly subdued, and the clarinet often seems less vitally important, and of less interest to Brahms, than the cello, which on Friday afternoon made for a problem.

Ani Aznavoorian is a usually excellent cellist whose playing can be impassioned, but in the Clarinet Trio it just wouldn’t catch fire. Cool and removed in the opening movement, she later showed more life, and by the opening bars of the finale, she played with warmth and animation. These feelings, though, were not sustained.

Bil Jackson, a fine clarinetist, performed with animation and real feeling, as did pianist Warren Jones, that most reliable of musicians, but despite their considerable best efforts, the performance was incomplete.