Chuang's instrument was modeled on one that Mozart himself used; Levin's was a replica of one of Haydn's, and they had different qualities: Chuang's more resonant, more liquid; Levin's dryer, almost guitar-like. You could always tell who was playing what. And the contrast had its peculiar charm. The two seemed enjoy playing together and lovingly responding to each other. The shimmering Andante, with its tremulous modulations, was a light-hearted yet profound delight.
The evening began with music director Martin Pearlman leading Mozart's greatest early symphony, No. 29 in A, K. 201. Pearlman's vivid accents in the first movement had a sense of urgency, but in the slow movement, the insinuating little rising and falling five-note theme, which anticipates a similarly repeating rising and falling theme in the seduction duet from the opera Cosí fan tutte — music that's all sexual innuendo — here seemed more mechanical than teasing or sexy.
Also on the program were three of Mozart's studious late arrangements of three fugues from Book II of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, which foreshadowed Mozart's later mastery of counterpoint. Solemn and grand, and barely two minutes each, these are so rarely performed that they were a treat to hear, though Pearlman was a little apologetic about scheduling them, and someone sitting behind me moaned, "Oh dear, another fugue!"
The evening ended with one of Mozart's symphonic masterpieces, the stunning though hastily composed Linz Symphony (No. 36). Pearlman and the period orchestra seemed really up for this, and in some ways the star was the rhythmic excitement created by timpanist John Grimes. Although in the end I missed Mozart's sense of this music welling up, barely contained, then spilling over, it was on the whole an admirable and satisfying effort.
Weiner and Wyner
Composer Lazar Weiner is probably not a name most people around here would recognize, and so his son, the widely admired 82-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Yehudi Wyner (Lazar changed the spelling of his son's name to avoid vulgar mispronunciation), has attempted to remedy that. As part of the third annual Boston Jewish Music Festival, Wyner presented the first complete concert ever devoted to his father's Yiddish songs ("The very heart," Wyner said, "of his deepest, most authentic musical expression"), and played a couple of his delightful piano compositions. Despite the apparent acoustical challenges at the Old South Meeting House, the concert was a sweet, enlivening, and deeply touching event.
The singers included a couple of familiar Boston artists, mezzo-soprano Lynn Torgove (both a cantorial student and faculty member at the Hebrew College School of Jewish Music) and operatic baritone David Kravitz, along with soprano Ilana Davidson (the daughter of a cantor), the young cantor Joshua Breitzman, and the 82-year-old cantor Robert Abelson, from New York, an old colleague and friend of Lazar Weiner's. Wyner invited them because they all had some knowledge of Yiddish, so the pronunciation would be accurate and idiomatic, not Germanic.
The songs ranged from early pieces that sounded like Debussy and later compositions that have actually been mistaken for Yiddish folk songs. There were lullabies and love songs, comic narratives and soul-searching questions of spirituality and salvation. Tender and powerful. Broad and subtle. All settings of poems by distinguished though largely forgotten Yiddish poets. And all thoroughly centered, both musically and emotionally. What heartbreak in the song depicting the poet Joseph Rubenstein's memory of his deceased mother tearfully lighting Sabbath candles. What fear and delight in the song of the 10 old Jews, their beards dipped in beer, singing the melody of the Turkish rabbi.