It is possible for a flute to play a given series of notes faster than a violin and considerably faster than a cello--particularly if it is the golden flute of James Galway. This interesting scientific fact may not have much to do with music, but it was proved conclusively last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, using Mozart's Quartet in D, K. 285 as the cadaver for the demonstration.
In the outer movements of this work, Galway played as though he were rushing to catch a plane (improbable, since he will be back tonight to conduct and play the solo in a concerto). The members of the Cleveland Quartet struggled valiantly to keep up with this technically impressive pace, and the music suffered, except for the Adagio movement where Galway slowed down and played with exquisite tone against a pizzicato accompaniment.
Last night's Mostly Mozart concert was a rather long program as such things are measured these days, but a few more minutes devoted to this work would have made it much more enjoyable. The second Mozart flute quartet on the program (the two-movement one in C, K. 285b) fared much better. The opening allegro was taken briskly but not at a pace that damaged the ensemble playing, and the variations movement (one of Mozart's most delightful, even more delightful in his Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, where it is also used) was beautifully performed. Not only did Galway adopt proper tempos in this movement, he even played accompaniment when the music called for it.
To their credit, most members of the audience stayed after Galway's final appearance to hear Beethoven's Quartet in F, Op. 95, which was the most substantial music on the program and brought out the best in the Cleveland Quartet. Opening the program was the charming and sometimes brilliant Quartet in E-flat, D. 87, composed by Schubert in his 16th year: three movements that sound like first-class Haydn and a finale in which the distinctive voice of Schubert can be heard emerging in some of the melodic contours. I particularly enjoyed the very brief and witty scherzo and the eloquent slow movement. This work should be heard more often, particularly when it can be performed as well as it was last night. The entire ensemble was impressive, and if I single out the very Viennese lilt of Donald Weilerstein's violin in the last movement, it does not mean that the group ever abandoned its cohesive ensemble spirit.
For its preconcert recital, the Clevelanders played Ravel's Quartet, a very substantial bonus indeed for those who arrived before 7:30, though it is hardly the ideal music on which to warm up for an evening's work. The performance was quite good at the beginning but improved noticeably as the music progressed. The subtle variations of tone color that are such a substantial part of this work's charm were very well conveyed on the four Stradivari instruments (once the property of Paganini) which the quartet has on loan from the Corcoran Gallery and which were used together by these players last night for the first time. And after last evening's music-making, it is a pleasure to know that the Cleveland Quartet will be performing frequently in the Washington area during the coming season.