As a beginning organ student, I recall my surprise when a revered teacher advised me that just because J.S. Bach is a great composer does not mean every piece he wrote is great.
In the catalog of 626 authenticated works composed by Mozart—that precisely numbered listing by Ludwig Köchel that gives us those ubiquitous “K“ numbers—there are no doubt plenty of obscure pieces that we are happy to ignore. But not the Divertimento in E-flat Major, K 653, a string trio presented in all its glory at Thursday’s (June 11) Mainly Mozart chamber music concert at the Timken Museum.
While not encountered on “Mozart’s greatest hits“ lists, this string trio stands out as one of Mozart’s most noble works, finished in 1788 at the peak of his compositional prowess. He had just completed Symphonies No. 39 through No. 41, his crowning achievement as a symphonist, although Mozart had no way of knowing these would be his final testament in the symphonic genre.
Violinist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, violist Chi-Yuan Chen, and cellist Ronald Thomas gave this sophisticated chamber piece the verve and thoughtfully considered refinement it richly deserves. From the outset, these three players displayed immaculate textural balance and a dependable deference to the player with the most important meldoic invention.
Especially in the inner movements, Wu’s persuasive cantabile line and glistening timbre stood out, even when her colleagues were fashioning equally compelling themes. Among these six contrasting movements, Mozart included a theme and variation cycle for the fourth that pursued exotic—for his time—harmonic excursions, as did the finale, a robust rondo.
To open this chamber concert, Thomas chose Anton Webern’s Movement for String Trio, Opus posthumous, an early serial (i.e. twelve-tone) essay that lasted but a few minutes. Webern’s delicate, short-phrased traceries and atonal harmonic field could not have been more removed from Mozart’s busy, florid style, yet it opened the concert with an expectation of concentrated listening on the part of the audience that, when applied to the expansive Mozart string trio, yielded substantial insights.