Austin American Statesman Review: Mozart's Birthday

Review: Aeolus Quartet & Michelle Schumann

By Luke Quinton
Monday January 28, 2013

Usually we hold out for milestone numbers before celebrating an anniversary; centennials or quarter-centuries at least. Unless you’re Mozart.

The poster child of child prodigies was born 257 years ago, yesterday. Not the roundest of numbers, but worth celebrating, for the career of a composer who published his first piece at the age of eight.

The Aeolus Quartet were an excellent choice to help celebrate Mozart’s music at the Austin Chamber Music’s (ACMC) concerts this weekend. Since departing their two year post as the University of Texas’s graduate quartet in residence, the young ensemble has taken up a similar position at the University of Maryland. Back on the Austin stage, the quartet were as precociously poised as ever.

To those of us listening 250 years later, the music of Mozart has come to define the sound of classical music. We think cocktail parties, powdered wigs or Baby Einstein. His music sounds mannered — even sedate — now, but for European audiences around the time of the Revolutionary War, this was exciting stuff — still is, really.

ACMC’s Michelle Schumann designed a program that deepened as it progressed; from a nimble piano trio, to the “Dissonance” Quartet, the night’s culmination was “Piano Concerto No. 14,” shrunken from its orchestra size to fit a quartet.

The concerto delivers a rousing swell of piano, blanketing a scene for the strings to balance on.

Schumann’s playing, despite the fact that she’s expecting a newborn this spring, was elegant and assured as ever. It’s worth noting that because the March concerts called for Schumann to premiere an extensive piano work composed by Graham Reynolds, plans have changed slightly, and Austin audiences will see the Aeolus Quartet return, to carry most of the load for those shows. We’ll hear some re-orchestrated Reynolds and some Puccini, and be glad for Aeolus’ Austin connections.

The audience applauded in-between movements throughout the first half. This is the new gray-zone of concert manners, a debate that asks why we should expect the audience to be silent (they certainly weren’t during Mozart’s time).

Before the second half began, Schumann politely hinted that the audience might miss the flow of the concerto by applauding, and she might have a point. Still, doesn’t something seem amiss, when any effort stifles enthusiasm? The debate continues.

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