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Handel and Hydn Society opens season with charm

Handel and Haydn Society

Sanders Theater, Boston.

October 19, 8 p.m.

By Hur Koser

The Handel and Haydn Society made a charming opening of their 1994-95 season with special programs and performances specially dedicated to Mozart. The so-called "Mozart Weekend" included seminars and informal discussions that allowed audiences to explore the artistic side of the composer, as well as concerts featuring the master's unfinished works.

The weekend opened with a Symphony Series Concert of orchestral music, featuring noted Mozart scholar and virtuoso fortepianist Robert Levin. Levin definitely possesses a deep and experienced insight on Mozart's style. He has been praised throughout the United States and Europe for his imaginative performances at the keyboard. He deserves most of the credit for his brilliant improvisations in the style of Mozart, and for his appealing completions of many pieces the master left unfinished. Robert Levin's appearances, both in recital and with major orchestras - such as Montreal, Chicago, and Boston Symphony - have proved his dazzling talent and an enormous repertoire that spans from the 16th century to the present. It seems that with every performance, he could seize the attention of his audience in a most pleasing and appealing manner. His appearance last Wednesday was no exception.

The program for the concert included those "completed" pieces from Mozart, most finished by Robert Levin himself. Levin proved also to be an talented speaker when he made the opening speech, introducing the audience to the challenges in the art of completing the composer's pieces. By the end of the speech, the audience was more than ready for any surprises that the clarinet quintet might come up with, such as playing one incomplete fragment that has been left over after 12 measures. It was a funny, yet pleasing effect, breaking the stereotypic formality involved in large concert halls and making the evening even more entertaining.

The other pieces the quintet played included the Allegro, Clarinet Quintet in B-Flat Major, and the only piece in the program that was completed by Mozart and the most delicious of all the pieces in the program: Clarinet Quintet in A Major. It was especially interesting, in the last piece, to listen to an original replicate of a Basset Clarinet being used by a contemporary chamber music group.

Robert Levin returned to stage before the intermission, continuing to give historical references and demonstrating some relevant characteristics of Mozart artistic style. He then played the well-known piano sonata, the Fantasia in D Minor. I must confess that his interpretation of the sonata was far more than what "beautiful" could denote for; it was indeed enchanting. It is interesting enough to note here that at whatever time and for whatever reason, Mozart did not bring this piece to completion; he apparently stopped just short of providing an ending. The work has become known in a version that has 10 measures added on at the end, probably written by August Eberhard Muller, but many pianists have chosen to ignore that option and round out the piece with a reprise of the opening material.

I must say that I felt both joy and regret overwhelming me as I left Sanders Theater. I was joyful, having experienced the most professional approach to a composer I deeply respect, and I was regretful for having missed the previous appearances by Handel & Haydn Society. For those who evaluate groups by their histories, I could say that H&H, founded in 1815, is the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the United States, and from its start has stood at the forefront of classical music. The group is currently under the artistic direction of distinguished composer and director Christopher Hogwood.

The Handel & Haydn Society's next appearance will take place at Jordan Theater on Friday, Dec. 16 and at Sanders Theater on Monday, Dec. 19. The program, called Baroque Noel, will include the Christmas Concerto by Corelli; Magnificat, Gloria by Vivaldi and motets by Palestrina, Gabrielli and Marenzio. This is the chance for music lovers who are looking for a delicious feast of Baroque music.