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Mozart and Brahms Discover the Clarinet

New York
Church of the Intercession
05/14/2019 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581
Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Opus 115

Sam Boutris (Clarinet), Brian Hong, Leerone Hakami (Violin), Sergio Munoz Leiva (Viola), Sam DeCaprio (Cello)

B. Hong, L. Hakami, S. Boutris, S. DeCaprio, S. Munoz Leiva

The Crypt Sessions are impresario Andrew Ousley’s moving and often electrifying contributions to musical performance in New York. Sam Boutris, a superb clarinetist, led a string quartet in the memorable music for clarinet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms. Both composers were arrested by the music produced by this clarion clear instrument, a novelty in the 18th century.

Mozart composed his quintet after befriending the clarinetist Anton Stadler at a meeting of the Freemasons, a group committed to high moral and spiritual values. Mozart dedicated the work to Stadler. The purity of the instrument’s sound, and its smooth rendering of a musical line by Boutris contrasts with the strings’ texture for a pleasurable result of rich tones resounding from the stoned arches of The Crypt. Surfaces made of Connecticut stone tucked below the earth in Audubon Park have a remarkable acoustic effect.

Boutris brought us crescendos out of silence, and then shattered the earth-bound room with pulsing phrases. Notes often hung deliciously in the air about us, as Boutris channeled Mozart. His clarinet caressed the music, bringing out the secrets of its rhythmic language, and creating a crystal liturgy.

One is immediately struck by Brian Hong’s performance on the first violin. Through the four movements of the Mozart we clearly hear Hong leading many unusual listening moments. A frequent end-of-the-phrase decoration is accented to tease and emphasize a semi-conclusion. Often the start of the following phrase is momentarily delayed with a pause. This creates a delicious unease. The listener almost mindlessly recalls of the overall arc of the movement. These moments have come to characterize music in this space and add a special quality to a jewel-like concert performed by a skating cello, the violins’ shimmer of sound and the clarinet’s high up trills.

Hong’s direction and Boutris’ beauty combine to offer a fresh Mozart resonating above a candle-covered floor. A small altar hovers subtly in the background. An oriental rug sits underneath the performers, absorbing the lower tones and throwing the music gently against the surrounding Crypt arches.

Brahms, Boutris pointed out in mid-concert comments, had retired before he met the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld. Mühlfeld’s performance inspired him to return to composing. Brahms was moved to create this quintet, which has references to the Mozart, but is very much in that thick, deeply-felt texture of the composer’s late work. Its mournful, fierce, and passionate beauty sung in every note. The cellist absorbed Brahms. Sam DeCaprio dug deeper into each phrase as though Brahms were invading him. His fellow artists followed suit.

Location does make a difference for the listener. Here in the Crypt we are offered a reverential lifefulness that makes music forever fresh.

Susan Hall



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