Two major works by Dmitri Shostakovich and Eric Krongold were presented yesterday evening by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. They were preceded by a bit of fluff by Alfred Schnittke – Mo-Zart for Two Violins, after Mozart’s K 416d. For the carnival season of 1783 Mozart wrote some music for his family’s use. Most of it is lost. Schnittke wrote a whimsical piece based on what little of Mozart’s original music remains. It’s a few minutes of odd keys, whistling, and a quote here and there. It’s hard to judge the effectiveness of a performance when the performers are deliberately playing wrong notes and off key. It was fun – enough said. The violinists were Jennifer Gilbert and Harvey de Souza.

Shostakovich’s sonata for Viola and Piano is his last composition. He corrected its proofs in the hospital three days before he died. It is an unusual work devoid of the usual fireworks characteristic of much of his writing. Each of its three movements ends with the marking morendo – literally dying though in music it means dying away. Shostakovich whose last few years were marked with severe illness, he had both coronary artery disease and lung cancer, knew this sonata was to be his last word.

It is a subdued and introspective work that is full of complex and intricate construction. It is subtle and wistful.  I suspect that those devoted to the great Russian composer’s music will be taken with it. Those only casually acquainted with Shostakovich may find it too restrained.  I thought it a very affecting work that is an appropriate valdectory to the career of the last titan of European classical music. Shostakovich was asked why he didn’t write atonal music. He replied that there was a lot left to say in C major. This sonata ends in that key.


The second half of the program was devoted to Erich Korngold’s youthful Piano Quintet in E Major. He was only 27 when the quintet was first performed. The opening movement is so lush and forceful that you wish it had a movie to go with it. Then one realizes that Korngold didn’t write music that sounded like movie music, rather he invented movie music. All the strengths that made him such a great composer for the screen are on display in this piece. When I use the word lush to describe its music I can but marvel that Korngold creates such an effect with only five instruments.

The second slow movement, an adagio, is beautiful and continues the unique Korngold sound – an amalgam of Strauss and Puccini that nevertheless retains its distinctiveness. The final movement is both vigorous and melodic making full and rich use of all five instruments.

The player were violinists Harvey de Souza and Jennifer Gilbert. The viola was played by Paul Neubauer. Cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Haochen Zhang completed the group. The latter is a previous Gold Medal winner at the Van Cliburn Competition.

The playing was mostly first rate. The first violin has a very important part in all three movements. De Souza’s playing in the first two movements was harsh and his intonation a bit off. He was much better in the last movement. The remaining strings were very strong, fully realizing Korngold’s gorgeous effect. Pianist Zhang was the perfect piano accompanist to the four strings. He showed perfect articulation, sensitive cooperation, and was neither too loud nor too soft.

The quintet in a fine piece that deserves a permanent place in the standard chamber music repertory.