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AN AMUSING CELEBRATION OF MOZART

From its beginning 17 years ago, the Mozart Birthday Party was intended to celebrate Mozart the musical genius and Mozart the man as well, and that includes his often utterly tasteless sense of humor.

There's nothing like tradition, and Monday evening's party, to a large degree, stuck to the tried and true, including the burlesqued biographies of the musicians.

For example, former BPO cellist Eva Herer was said to have begun teaching at Elmwood Franklin School "because working with elementary school children is the closest thing to being in the BPO cello section again."

Master of ceremonies Duane Saetveit was quoted in his bio sketch as paraphrasing Winston Churchill in describing the work of the birthday party's planning committees: "Never have so many done so little, so badly, for so few."

But when it came to the music, there was no fooling around.

Violinist Douglas Cone and violist Donna Lorenzo played Mozart's Duo in G Major, K423 with nicely dovetailing lines in the first movement. They brought out the more plangent and layered blend of sonorities in the Adagio quite well and concluded with a carefree romp through the playful Finale.

Then, after Saetveit had related how the Scholarly Research Committee, trying to go high-tech, had accidentally downloaded a list of porno Web sites while trying to access Mozart files, he introduced violinist Andrea Blanchard-Cone, cellist Herer and pianist Frieda Manes for a performance of the Trio in B-Flat, K254.

There was fine ensemble throughout, but it was the pristine yet vibrantly vital playing of pianist Manes that was the engine driving the performance through the first movement's intriguing rhythmic hitches and unexpected excursions into the minor, and the alternately light and more grave touches in the Finale.

This year's raffle of door prizes stuck largely to the awarding of tickets, Lancaster Opera trinkets, and Mozart chocolates until a tasteless table lamp with two small china figurines surfaced, followed by a small porcelain tureen with, allegedly, the figure of Mozart on the lid, prompting Saetveit to admit that it bore a strong resemblance to the Campbell Soup kid.

The three atrocious Mozart-on-black-velvet paintings, which had been a feature of prior raffles, were displayed on stage but, Saetveit declared, would not be raffled since they now constitute the largest collection of its kind in the world.

The party concluded with a performance of the superb late String Quintet in G minor, K516. The artists kept the tension on its darkly flowing lines at all times, created wonderful allusions in the muted slow movement's shadowy forms and ominous gestures, and gave the Finale a fine sense of lyricism over its measured supporting figures and in its catchy main allegro theme.

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