On Monday evening the Jupiter Players gave the final recital in their summer series entitled The Mannheim Effect in which they showcased the works of composers whose careers at some point intersected with the Mannheim orchestra, an ensemble which was in the late eighteenth century one of the finest in Europe. The program on this occasion featured works by Franz Anton Dimmler, Mozart and Dvořák.
The program opened with Dimmler's Clarinet Quartet in B Major. There's almost no information available online regarding Dimmler (most unusually not even a Wikipedia entry) let alone this particular work. All I could find regarding the composer was a brief note in the Oxford Index stating that he became a full time horn player with the Mannheim Orichestra in 1771. I was a little surprised then when this three-movement quartet turned out to be such an excellent piece of music. While hardly profound, it was nevertheless a highly enjoyable fanciful work, reminiscent in style of Mozart's divertimenti, that was perfect entertainment for a summer evening.
The next work was Mozart's String Quintet No. 2 in C minor K. 406/516b (1787). I've often considered the composer's "viola quintets" to be among his greatest chamber works. Although this is an arrangement of an earlier piece and not an original composition, it is still powerful and filled with genius. In it Mozart recycled a more youthful piece, the Serenade No. 12, K. 388, written when he had only just arrived in Vienna from Salzburg and was anxious to make a good impression on his new audience. The use of the C minor key, though, gave the serenade a darker and more somber character than was usually encountered in this traditionally lighthearted genre and the composer may have felt its content would be better expressed with strings rather than with winds. Another consideration was Mozart's need to raise cash. By 1787, his fortunes in Vienna were already on the wane and he was facing financial difficulties. This piece, which he offered to the public by subscription along with two other recently completed quintets, the K. 515 and the K. 516, was an attempt to meet his obligations to his friend and fellow Freemason Michael von Puchberg who had previously lent money to the composer to help keep him afloat. In the event, the idea proved a failure, even though Mozart extended the subscription period, and he realized no profit from his endeavor. It was only in 1792, a year after his death, that the quintet was finally published. Listening to it, one wonders what more the Viennese could have asked for. This is a brilliant work, especially the third movement menuetto, a three part canon which in the trio section morphs into a "double mirror canon" in which the voices of the two violins are answered in reverse by the first viola and the cello. Even for Mozart, it's a stunning display of virtuosity.
After intermission, the program concluded with Dvořák's String Quartet No. 13 in G Major Op. 106 (1895). The composer's presence on this program was something of a mystery since he really had no connection with Mannheim other than that he possessed, along with every other classical music lover, a high regard for Mozart. Not that it mattered. This quartet, along with the No. 12, "the American," is one of Dvořák's finest chamber works. The listener can hear in the opening movement the composer's joy at once again being in Europe after his sojourn in New York City. The work is exceptionally well crafted and an excellent example of Dvořák's mature style as he here masterfully combines the four instruments to create a sound that is, especially in the second movement adagio, almost symphonic in its breadth of expression.