CAMBRIDGE -- The Boston Chamber Music Society is supplementing its regular season with a two-part ''Mozart Festival." Sunday afternoon brought a performance of Mozart's three ''King of Prussia" Quartets, and on Jan. 13 and 15 there will be a mixed program including the C-Major Piano Concerto (K. 415), the Missa Brevis in F, and the Clarinet Quintet.
A full house turned up in Cambridge's First Church, Congregational to hear four first-class chamber-music players who are not a full-time string quartet have a go at this delightful and elegantly crafted music. Mozart's final works in this genre, the quartets were probably commissioned as part of a set of six by the King of Prussia. Mozart never completed the commission and was therefore never paid for it.
The King of Prussia in question, Friedrich Wilhelm II, was an accomplished cellist, so the quartets feature prominent cello writing, often in the high register. BCMS artistic director, cofounder, and cellist Ronald Thomas dealt with it easily and eloquently. Violist Roger Tapping is a graduate of two major string quartets, the Allegri and the Takacs, and his playing was alert and musically sophisticated. The youngest musician, Harumi Rhodes, who played second violin, is a recent alumna of New England Conservatory; already vastly experienced in chamber music, she offered playing that was full of character. First violinist Ida Levin played with awesome assurance, rhythmic vitality, and impeccable intonation, but most of the time seemed sealed off in her own world, playing a solo with string trio accompaniment.
This may have been a function of the venue's resonant acoustics, which are not helpful to this particular genre of music-making. The quartet sounded distant, and the performances swam through an aural fog. It was difficult to make out a lot of detail, and everything registered on the same dynamic level, whether it was played that way or not. Still, listening to this music played by these people came as a pleasant alternative to standing in line, the electronic beeps of cash registers, and the challenges of Scotch tape.