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Robin Hansen brings two violin sonatas to the second Midsummer Mozart preview

The 1777 portrait known as the "Bologna" Mozart
The 1777 portrait known as the "Bologna" Mozartartist unknown, from Wikiemedia Commons (public domain)

The second of three concerts previewing this year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival, organized by George Cleve, took place in the Noontime Concerts™ series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”) at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral. Violinist and Concertmaster of the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra Robin Hansen was soloist, accompanied by pianist Miles Graber. The program consisted of two violin sonatas, K. 296 in C major and K. 376 in F major.

Both were the efforts of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in his early twenties. K. 296 was written in Mannheim in 1778, and K. 376 comes from the beginning of his career in Vienna in 1781. Both abound with the sort of freshness of rhetoric associated with a major key. There is also no shortage of wit, particularly with some of the “modulation games” that Mozart plays in the second (Andante) movement of K. 376. With apologies for the Western metaphor, it would appear that this sonata was one of several gestures conceived to let the Viennese know that a new sheriff was in town.

Just as important is that neither of these is for an accompanied solo violin. The piano carries just as much thematic weight, and Mozart was not shy about writing accompanying passages for the violin. As a result the success of this performance owed a lot to the effective chemistry between Hansen and Graber, each of whom always knew when to cede the spotlight to the other.

This was definitely a recital of positive energy, promising that a generous share of that energy is in store for the three Festival concerts that will be given next month.