DAVID MORRIS & SONNERIE by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, April 12, 2007.
Presented by Music Toronto at Jane Mallett Theatre Toronto.

The pianoforte played by the light-fingered virtuoso David Owen Norris, is a still, small voice. It’s silvery timbre skirts the brooding thunder of the darker toned grand piano and voices feelings bounded by a sense of delicacy. In a concerto scored for two violins and a cello, as in J.C. ‘London’ Bach’s “Concerto in E-flat”, the excellence of the pianoforte’s ‘soft, gentle and low’ voice is clearly heard in the stately flow of the ‘Andante’s’ poignant theme that so brings to mind Mozart’s 21st Concerto theme, known as the “Elvira Madigan”. These works of Bach and his pupil Mozart share the power of giving music the intimations of speech. Even in Bach’s third movement, a dance-like ‘Allegro’ in which the gaiety is not personal, one has the feeling of a human voice telling a story, albeit in a foreign tongue.

Mozart at 15 showed his appreciation for Christian Bach’s music and his friendship by arranging a Bach “Sonata in D” as his own “Concerto in D, K.107/1”. Mozart’s second movement ‘Andante’ progresses in the formal patterns of a courtly dance, but develops a rarified feeling, as though the dancers were moving from the ballroom to the garden, flowing with the breezes among ponds, fountains, marbles and parterres, exhilarated beyond personal emotion into an uplifted state of mind. The power of Mozart’s muse can be read in the faces of the players, particularly the cellist, Joseph Crouch, who was visibly ‘a-mused’ during the cadenza. The brilliant ‘pizzicato’ accompaniment of the ‘Menuetto’ is further testimony to the ‘zen-like’ power of music played without force.

The concert also has a time-sensitive aspect that should be noted here. The Bach, the Mozart, and two other compositions in the programme were written between 1769 (“Concerto in A” by Philip Hayes) and 1772 (Concerto in D Op.1.No.5) by James Hook. These are the first known piano concertos. The Hayes and the Hook are graceful and witty pieces. The finale of the Hook is an especially good-humoured, high-stepping dance with marked overtones of Scottish reels and bagpipe drones.

The other time-sensitive element belonging to this period of the late 18th century is the emergence into the mainstream, particularly through Hungarian court circles, of Roma, or ‘Gypsy’ dance music. Their influence appears famously in Haydn’s ” ‘Gypsy Rondo’ Trio”, and later in Schubert’s “Quintet in D”, and Brahms’ “Piano Quartet, Op. 25”. As played by Norris and the excellent Sonnerie violinists—Monica Huggett and Hèlén Plouff, this is music to lift the spirits in pure fun and enjoyment—high contrast of tempo and mood that shift with winks and a grin from the lugubrious to the riot of perpetual motion. It was a concert you leave with a light step, humming a tune.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.