One would search in vain to hear any of the unpretentious strains of Mozart's 30-odd sonatas for violin and piano in the Dolby stereo dimensions of "Amadeus." Most of them are early Mozart, from the days when father Leopold was still pressing the son to stay with the violin. And, composed as they were for intimate occasions, they do not throw off sparks in the modern concert hall the way much of Mozart does. Most of these works, though, are lovely, and there is considerable appetite for them in these days of Mozart the Oscar winner.
Tuesday night's sellout crowd for performances of four sonatas by violinist Young Uck Kim and pianist Peter Serkin at the Kennedy Center heard the compositions as they work best in a modern setting. The Terrace Theater is small enough that the music does not have to be projected beyond proper proportions.
Don't misunderstand. These works are not miniatures. But they fluctuate between the weight of salon music, on the one hand, and chamber music, on the other. Artificial as that distinction may seem, it was clearly illustrated by the juxtaposition of Tuesday night's works.
The first three played -- each in only two movements -- were part of a package of six that Mozart composed in his early twenties on his great escape from the strictures of Salzburg to the more worldly environs of Mannheim and Paris. In that context they were meant to show his worldliness. In retrospect, they seem modest, especially from the conceptual point of view. But they also show something else, an extraordinary lyric gift, especially for melody and harmony. The most powerful, and familiar, is the E Minor Sonata, K. 304, with some startling modulations in its first movement, and a true pathos in its lovely minuet. Kim and Serkin, who have been friends since they were schoolmates 20 years ago, captured these qualities without at all forcing things.
At the end came one of the last Mozart violin sonatas, the A Major, K. 526, a much later work, a product of the same year as "Don Giovanni." The sonata does not have that kind of drama, but is far more intricate than the early sonatas -- more concentrated, more sophisticated.
No doubt playing such a program comes as a sort of balm for Serkin, who appeared at the Terrace only two months ago in one of the most rigorous assignments possible -- the last three Beethoven sonatas. No doubt these works are good for the performers' systems after the Beethoven. They are also good for the listeners' systems.