Ear Supply: Feinting Spells

If it were slower and a bit gloomier, you might almost mistake the serpentine, chromatic opening of Mozart’s String Quartet in E-flat for a piece by a fellow composer on next week’s Emerson String Quartet concert, Shostakovich.

Mozart’s bare melodic line (naked, without accompaniment) seems to curl around the home key but, teasingly, never quite land there. The music then passes to a different chord but briefly forgets to keep going, pedaling in place for a moment; and just as it sounds like it’ll settle on a clear cadence in E-flat, the second violin interrupts with a mocking little tag. Then the process is reversed: The two pedaling-in-place bars are repeated verbatim and lead back to the opening sinuous curl, this time lushly harmonized.

All these feints and destabilizations take up a mere 15 bars; though any great, or even decent, composer is going to play with and subvert expectations, few works by Mozart open with quite such a weird feeling of what’s-going-on-where-are-we?. Ironically, the piece by Shostakovich—a composer from whom we expect such mind games—is his Piano Quintet, which opens in a solid, severe G minor, like a Bach prelude. The Emerson, in its annual visit (its first with new cellist Paul Watkins), plays both these works, plus Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F Minor. For the Shostakovich, they’re joined by UW pianist Craig Sheppard. Meany Hall, UW campus, 543-4880, uwworldseries.org. $10–$43. 7:30 p.m. Tues., Oct. 15.

 
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