On Monday night, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players staged another of their concerts in the Good Shepherd Church, near Lincoln Center. They are run by the much-admired Mei-Ying. Their name relates to Mozart—the Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.” And the first half of Monday’s concert related to Mozart, too.
First came Beethoven’s variations on “Là ci darem la mano,” from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Who can resist this delicious duet? Beethoven’s variations have been played by a variety of threesomes—woodwind threesomes, usually, but not always. On this occasion, they were played by a flute, clarinet, and bassoon.
Mozart would have loved Beethoven’s variations, I think.
Then came Mozart-Adagio, by Arvo Pärt, the octogenarian Estonian composer (once known as one of the “holy minimalists”). This is a treatment of the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in F major, K. 280. The slow movement is in F minor, and it is one of Mozart’s very best slow movements, which is saying something. It is noble, mournful, graceful. Tragic. Simple yet deep.
Pärt’s treatment is for piano trio (i.e., piano, violin, and cello). And what does he do with Mozart? He Pärtifies him, basically. Well, can’t Pärt write his own music, without messing with others’? Oh, sure: but composers tend to revere Mozart, and they wish to pay him homage, as in this piece.
Mozart would have loved it, I think.
Next on the program was the Sinfonia concertante—which, as you know, is Mozart’s famous work for violin, viola, and orchestra. About fifteen years after the composer’s death, someone made an arrangement of it for string sextet. Who did it? No one knows for sure, but it may have been Maximilian Stadler, an Austrian composer and musicologist who lived from 1748 to 1833. Whoever did it, the Jupiter players played it on Monday night.
Would Mozart have loved this arrangement, or liked it? I’m not sure. The Sinfonia concertante really works in the form he gave it. But I’m pretty sure he would have loved this: the ability of people, six at a time, to play the piece at home.
The second half of Monday’s concert consisted of one piece: Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57. For my money, this is one of Shostakovich’s best pieces. It is also an unusual, idiosyncratic, surprising piece.
It begins with a movement called simply “Prelude.” This movement is strong, sad, and ambiguous. That is a frequent Shostakovich combination. Then there is a Fugue (which ought to follow a prelude, come to think of it). And a Scherzo: a wacky, impish, rhapsodic, rollicking scherzo. It is probably the pièce de résistance of the quintet. Everyone loves it, and thrills to it.
There was an adorable little boy in the audience, and he wanted to applaud after the Scherzo. He could not understand why no one else was.
Then comes an Intermezzo—very sad indeed. Also purposeful, even a touch defiant. The final movement is, simply, Finale. And it is a total surprise. You would not have guessed, in a thousand years, that Shostakovich would end this way.
The piano begins with a rocking (not rollicking) G major. A lulling G major. Then the piano is strangely ruminative. As the Finale continues, the music is fey, stormy, march-like, importunate, impertinent. Etc. It’s a bit schizophrenic. It is also Schubertian, in that the composer goes wherever his mind or spirit directs.
Near the end, there is whimsy, but a serious whimsy (if you’ll allow). The work concludes gently, offhandedly, sweetly. As though all the fuss that went on before is forgotten or irrelevant.
This quintet repays repeated listening, indeed study. It is richer—and weirder, and more wonderful—than it seems at first. And even at first, it is captivating.
I have not yet mentioned the performers. That is mainly because the pianist was a good friend of mine, Ignat Solzhenitsyn. He played as he can be expected to: with understanding, mastery, and devotion. That’s probably not for me to say, but it’s still true.
And it is definitely true that Mei-Ying’s Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players offer eclectic, innovative, and rewarding programs. So does their cousin, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. New Yorkers are entitled to complain about things: the dismayingly potholed streets, for example. But about the availability of chamber music, no.