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2011 Token Creek Chamber Music Festival premieres a Mozart might-have-been
Pianist Levin played with wonderful vitality.
Pianist Levin played with wonderful vitality.

The 2011 Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opened with a two-piano program on Aug. 24 and 25, and then advanced to the first of its weekend chamber programs. I attended the performance on Saturday evening the 27th, presenting an all-Mozart menu, built around the work of familiar guest pianist Robert Levin.

The three works represented the kind of music that Mozart would have contributed to elite social gatherings in Austria of the 1770s-80s. Cozily refurbished as a rustic salon, the Barn on the DeForest estate of festival directors John and Rose Mary Harbison provided a reasonable counterpart for a capacity audience.

The first work was a dazzling piece of "social" music, an expansive six-movement Divertimento in B-flat (K.287), one of several that Mozart wrote for a combination of two horns and four string parts. In days of yore, some conductors (like Toscanini) would play these pieces with full string orchestra, drowning out the horns and bloating the textures. It is so refreshing nowadays to hear this work as intended, as chamber writing, one player per string part, giving utter clarity to the writing.

The first violin really has a concertante role, as a veritable soloist. That part, written by Mozart to show off his own youthful brilliance as a virtuoso violinist, was played with flair by Rose Mary Harbison.

The middle work was not a truly authentic Mozart piece. It was a group of three distinct movements that Mozart began for the violin-cello-piano combination, but never finished. Levin has worked out his own completions, and united them into a single trio work, receiving in this program its world premiere.

Two allegro movements in sonata form frame a minuet -- the latter with a middle section of unusually dark seriousness. They don't really amount to an integral work, and they display Mozart's varying neglect of the cello part, at times creating almost a violin sonata, with considerable solos for the piano itself. Levin played with wonderful vitality, and Mrs. Harbison was again the featured violinist. In all, an impressive piece of might-have-been Mozart.

For the conclusion, there was a chamber reduction of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26, known as the "Coronation" concerto. The composer devised several of his earlier concertos so that wind parts could be omitted and only orchestral strings required. In this case, the extensive wind parts Mozart wrote were simply ignored and a group of only five string players was used. Though the modern piano poses occasional balance problems in some ensemble passages, the reduction worked well. This concerto also has extensive textual problems, on which Levin himself is working, and his insights contributed to his bravura realization of the solo role.

John Harbison, giving as always his wise and witty introductory comments, returned to his original student specialty, the viola, to play that instrument in the first and last of the works.

Sunday's repeat of this Mozart program is sold out. The festival continues with a program of jazz on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, and the concluding all-Bach program next weekend, Sept. 3 and 4, winds up another summer's distinguished music-making at Token Creek.

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