|Pyxis Piano Quartet (L-R): Jie Jin, cello; Luigi Mazzocchi, violin; |
Hiroko Yamazaki, piano & Amy Leonard, viola.
Pyxis Piano Quartet opened a new season of Market Street Music Festival Concerts Saturday, October 1, 2016 with its usual combination of superb playing and interesting programming. The ensemble consisted of Luigi Mazzocchi, violin; Amy Leonard, viola; Jie Jin, cello and Hiroko Yamazaki, piano.
The bulk of the program featured two works written a century apart: Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major (K. 493) and Richard Strauss’ Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 13.
Luckily for us, when Mozart’s publisher canceled his commission for a series of piano quartets, the composer had already completed the second quartet and it was published by another firm in 1786. K.493 is one of Mozart’s greatest compositions and a classic of the genre with its pristine form, gracious themes and exquisite interplay between instruments.
The first movement — Allegro — begins intensely but offers gracious themes throughout. The Larghetto is a richly conceived slow movement featuring an exquisite interplay among piano and strings. The third movement Rondo — Allegretto — is full of fire and energy with a prominent piano.
Pyxis was most sympathetic to this spacious and outgoing work. Particularly attractive were the gently springy rhythms and exquisite phrasing of the strings in the first movement and Yamazaki’s beautifully shaped phrasing in the Larghetto.
Whereas Mozart wrote his quarter at the height of his musical maturity, Strauss was a mere 20 and very much in the thrall of Brahms when he composed his work. The result is an unusual fusion of musical personalities: the gravitas of Brahms and the fire and impetuousness of the young Strauss. Rich and dark, the work is full of blazing energy.
The playing has all the attributes you would expect from Pyxis: impeccable intonation and fluid tempos that allowed the music to flow in unbroken phrases. The players were individually excellent, as was Mazzocchi’s rendering of the main theme of the Andante and Yamazaki’s voicing of the chords supporting him. But they are at their best when they function as an ensemble, as in the tight Scherzo or the virtuosic interplay of the closing Vivace.
The evening opened sans piano with the playful Mozart En Route (A Little Traveling Music) by Aaron Jay Kernis, past recipient of the A.I. duPont Composer’s Award. Inspired by a letter from Mozart to his father, in which he complains of being jostled during a particularly rough carriage ride, Kerns’ short (three-minute) string trio takes listeners on a whimsical musical trip from Salzburg to Nashville and back. Thematic variation is the rule as familiar-sounding pop styles interweave with the classical tradition with several quotations from Mozart’s Divertimento for Strings, K. 563.