Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Jupiter Players Perform Sobeck, Mozart, Suk and Dvořák

On Monday afternoon, I went to Good Shepherd Church on West 66th to hear another Jupiter Players recital, this one consisting entirely of the music of Bohemian composers, among them Johann Sobeck, Johann Nepomuk Wendt (as transcriber of Mozart), Josef Suk and Antonín Dvořák.

The program opened with Sobeck's Duo Concertant on Themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Op. 5 (n.d., published 1880) for clarinet and horn with piano accompaniment.  To call this brief piece "obscure" would be to indulge in understatement.  When I attempted to research it, I could find literally nothing on it aside from its date of publication.  Nor on the composer either, for that matter, other than that he was a gifted clarinetist who composed exclusively for his own instrument.  It consisted of five movemnts that were skillfully arranged and highly enjoyable if only because Sobeck wisely chose so magnificent a source to draw upon.

Continuing along with little known adapations of Mozart's music, the first half of the program concluded with Wendt's arrangement of selections from Le Nozze di Figaro.  Wendt was not only a contemporary of Mozart but, as director of Joseph II's court Harmonie (i.e., wind band), pretty much outranked him in prestige.  His specialty consisted in the arrangement for winds of popular operas of the day.  He must have had a strong predilection for Mozart's music.  In addition to Figaro, Wendt created adaptations of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni.  It should be noted that while Wendt's original transcription of Figaro was scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns, that performed at this recital called for flute, violin, viola and cello.  Why Wendt should have chosen to complete a second transcription that would not be playable by his Harmonie is unknown.  Most likely, Joseph II specifically requested it for some occasion at court.  In any event, the arrangement was excellent and captured very well the spirit of Mozart's sublime music.  It consisted of arrangements of the Overture and six of the best known arias.

After intermission, the musicians returned onstage to perform  the fourth movement in B-flat major of Suk's String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11 (1896, fourth movment revised 1915).  Suk was not a particularly successful composer, but he did have the sense to marry well.  It was primarily through the intervention of his father-in-law, Antonín Dvořák himself, that Suk's quartet was published in the first place, this after the older composer had informed his publisher Simrock that the work was "the best that I know by him [Suk]."  Interestingly, the fourth movement, that played here, has a history all its own.  As one source states:
"Suk re-wrote the fourth movement twenty years after its completion because he was dissatisfied with the original version. Despite his use of the same thematic material, the new version differs so substantially that this movement is frequently performed on its own."
That being the case, it's probably better to view the movement as a work entire in itself rather than as an excerpt from a traditional four-movement quartet.

After intermission, the recital concluded with a performance of Dvořák's Piano Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 23 (1875).  The work was written shortly after the composer had won the Austrian Prize for the first time and was already on the brink of international fame.  It's not as often performed as the Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major written some fifteen years later, but it's nevertheless a delightful work that conveys very well the composer's Romantic inclinations and even at times hints at the sweeping melodies that were to characterize the much later String Quartet No. 12.  Though the Op. 23, especially in the final movement, sometimes displays the awkwardness of an artist still struggling to perfect his craft, it also demonstrates an early mastery of technique.  This can be heard in the nearly seamless integration of the piano and strings that allows them to speak with one voice rather than play against one another.  Beyond that, the second movement theme and variations, though simple enough, especially when compared with the Symphonic Variations written only two years later, stand out for their depth of feeling.  Some critics have seen in them the influence of Schubert's variations in the second movement of his Quartet No. 14; but Dvořák's variations, while admittedly tinged with melancholy, are not nearly so dark as Schubert's.  One could say that Dvořák still envisions the possiblity of deliverance, while for Schubert nothing awaits but annihilation.

As is usually the case at Jupiter recitals, the musicianship on Monday afternoon was superb.  Guest artists Drew Petersen, piano, and Mark Kaplan, violin, were both highly convincing when collaborating on the Dvořák quartet.

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