The scheduled program for today’s Noontime Concerts™ recital at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”) was to feature violinist Mariya Borozina as soloist. Unfortunately, her accompanist, Miles Graber, was obliged to withdraw for medical reasons. Instead Borozina was joined by her colleagues from the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, violist Caroline Lee and cellist Thalia Moore, for a performance of four of the six movements from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 563 divertimento in E-flat major. This was preceded by Borozina and Lee performing the first of Mozart’s duos for violin and viola, his K. 423 in G major.
K. 563 was composed in Vienna in 1788. It was the last of the many multi-movement compositions that Mozart identified as a divertimento or a serenade. (By way of context, the next-to-last such composition was the K. 525 G major serenade, best known as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” composed in 1787.) When played in their entirety, the six movements of K. 563 can run about an hour in duration; but, since this was probably “occasional” music, there is nothing particularly wrong with selecting out a few of the movements.
Today’s selection was definitely a good one. Each of the four movements demonstrated Mozart’s skill at composing a “conversation among equals” involving the three major pitch ranges of the string section. With his usual facility, Mozart keeps the roles of solo and accompaniment in a constantly interchanging flow; and all three performers were acutely attuned to each other to realize the rich interplay of this flow. This was probably best appreciated in the fourth movement set of variations on an Andante theme; but, in the sequence of four movements performed today, it seemed as if Mozart was always pulling new tricks out from up his sleeve. Those who follow Midsummer Mozart Festival activities are familiar with such clear accounts of his inventiveness, but it was nice to know that we did not have to wait for next summer to have such an experience.
Mozart composed his two duos for violin and viola in Salzburg in 1783, and in K. 423 his inventiveness takes him in a decidedly different direction from that of K. 563. In this case the violin part is definitely the leading voice, in sharp distinction to the give-and-take between violin and viola in the 1779 K. 364 sinfonia concertante in E-flat major. Nevertheless, Mozart’s personal interest in the viola is evident in every measure of K. 423 as he keeps coming up with different ways for this instrument to play the role of accompanist. This is neither conversation; nor is it two rivals, each trying to upstage the other. Rather, it is a highly imaginative (one might even say revolutionary) effort to rethink the relationship between soloist and accompanist; and Borozina and Lee offered a revelatory account of just how revolutionary Mozart could be.