Going back to the time of Mozart, we got halfway there by entering the Lancaster Opera House, and the sounds inside completed the journey.
This was the annual Mozart birthday concert Monday evening, featuring players mostly from the Buffalo Philharmonic, and including cake and party prizes (the grand one was a pair of matched cobblestones from the streets of Vienna, perhaps some of the very ones that Mozart stepped on while hearing tunes in his head). The host was Duane Saetveit, a horn player.
There were some splendid works on the program, and one oddity. The oddity was a Concert Rondo in E for horn (K. 371). Saetveit played it well, with pianist Debbie Overton, but it didn't blow out any candles.
The first beautiful piece was the Quintet in E Flat for piano and winds (K. 452). The performance itself did not sound beautiful, and this was largely the fault of the piano. It sounded bad enough to be a period instrument. Debbie Overton was thus unfairly equipped.
The winds provided a healthy contrast, and appeared to disregard the tonal limitations of their important partner.
The players, in addition to Ms. Overton, were Cheryl Bishkoff, oboe, Diana Haskell, clarinet, Martha Malkiewicz, bassoon, and Saetveit, horn. Winds make a good sound in the Lancaster Opera House, but a good sound is not enough when you miss a light and lively spirit, a musical flexibility that comes from sympathetic ensemble. The piano was the handicap.
Much more satisfying was a Divertimento (K. 439b) here played by violin (Andrea Blanchard), viola (Valerie Heywood-How), and bassoon (Mrs. Malkiewicz). String players contest with wind players over the correct realization of the piece, and this performance solution appears to have been something of a truce between warring factions.
The program said the work was written originally for two clarinets and bassoon and I'd like to see the case argued that the string parts are better realized by clarinets. Perhaps the bassoon was a bit of a sore thumb, but it was a good sounding sore thumb.
The cake was taken by Diana Haskell, the clarinetist, who joined the Westwood String Quartet for a performance of the Clarinet Quintet in A (K. 581), easily Mozart's most lovable chamber work.
She had excellent support from the string players, whose parts, we must remember, are not negligible. For example, Mozart's own instrument, the viola, has a wonderful central part during the last movement, and I found the playing of it by Mrs. Heywood-How to be everything it should be in subtle, sensuous expression.
But of course the clarinetist makes or breaks a performance of the piece, and Ms. Haskell, in the purity and warmth of her tone, in the beauty of her intonation, and not least in the smoothness of her phrasing, was a Mozart maker.
She tried for unusually soft playing in the slow movement, and might have misjudged the strength of her projection. Her playing could be beautifully soft, and almost too softly beautiful. More important, Haskell never misjudged musical effect, and if she lingered over a phrase, which she did with seemingly great discretion, she did not linger too long. She took the cake.
Mozart Birthday Celebration
Lake Effect Winds, pianist Debbie Overton and the Westwood String Quartet playing music by Mozart.
Monday evening in the Lancaster Opera House.