James Howsmon and Marilyn McDonald Collaborate on Mozart Among Friends

May 1, 2017

By Erich Burnett

album cover of "Mozart Among Friends"

After performing the complete set of Mozart Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violin together, pianist James Howsmon and violinist Marilyn McDonald longed to relive three lesser-known gems. Together they recorded those pieces for release on Mozart Among Friends, a new recording on Oberlin Music, the official label of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Perhaps smaller in scope but not in creativity, the sonatas that make up Mozart Among Friends wonderfully reveal the full range of Mozart’s genius. The recording opens with the tempestuous Sonata in G Major, K. 379, with its turbulent minor-key Allegro movement bookended by a florid Adagio in G major and a set of variations on a cheerful theme. It is followed by the Sonata in F Major, K. 377, in which Mozart revived an old tradition from his youth: incorporating a minuet as finale, signaling a release of tension as the piece progresses from its energetic opening movements to its elegant conclusion.

Completing the program is the Sonata in A Major, K. 526, which reveals the “emancipation” of the violin from the piano, a device employed by Haydn at the time and incorporated into Mozart’s string quartets and his three Viennese sonatas, of which this was the third. It depicts what many believe to be Mozart at his finest, from his unerring sense of texture to his seemingly endless font of melody.

As the artists’ notes explain, the title is a sort of double entendre: “Mozart Among Friends” refers to the custom during Mozart’s time of hosting home performances for loved ones; it also honors the friendship of the two longtime collaborators, Oberlin Conservatory faculty members Howsmon and McDonald, as well as their late friend, painter Leslie Miller, whose artwork graces the cover of the recording.

Distributed by Naxos of America, Mozart Among Friends is available through select retailers and digital music channels worldwide. Oberlin Music is the official label of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Learn more at oberlin.edu/oberlinmusic.


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