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Pianist Sherman satisfies in Mozart birthday concert

Even Google was celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday yesterday. The second ''o" in the search engine's name sported a white wig, while a staff full of musical notes floated off to the right.

Emmanuel Music has been celebrating Mozart's birthday with special concerts and performances for 35 years. For this special anniversay the group is presenting pianist Russell Sherman in the cycle of Mozart's piano sonatas in five concerts, with complementary chamber music, as well as concert performances of ''The Magic Flute."

Sherman's revelatory performances of Mozart piano concertos have been a regular feature of the birthday concerts, so the sonata cycle was an exciting idea. The first program of three sonatas, with the A-Major Concerto K.414 in the chamber version for piano and string quintet as a bonus, lived up to expectations -- even though, with Sherman, as with Mozart, one never knows quite what to expect. Mozart's creative art and the pianist's interpretive art are built on simultanteously creating and confounding expectations.

The three sonatas Sherman played last night were composed between Mozart's 18th and 22d years; the concerto dates from 1782, when he was 26, but all are fully mature works. Even Mozart had a learning curve, but he started composing at 5. What the composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni said about Mozart's string quartets is also true of his sonatas -- ''every opera is a symphonic score, every quartet a distillation of an operatic scene."

This operatic dimension is something Sherman caught exactly. He spun out the melodies gorgeously, enlivening them with rhythmic inflections over a steady accompaniment, ''songs without words," but with words implied. Sherman's faster tempos were bracing, but even at breakneck speed he never failed to observe and articulate the shifts of harmony.

There was nothing abstract about Sherman's Mozart, nothing merely decorative. The melodies and gestures displayed individuality and character and interacted in quixotic ways as they marched and swooned and danced and hid and jumped out of the shrubbery. One thought of Marianne Moore's definition of poetry, ''imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

Emmanuel Church does not provide an ideal acoustic for a piano recital, but once past the first few bars of the Sonata in F, K. 280, Sherman sounded in admirable technical fettle. The slow movement of the D. Major Sonata, K. 311 was especially affecting. The Lydian String Quartet, augmented by bassist Gregory Koeller, provided spirited interaction in the concerto, and even in Emmanuel Church, it was possible to hear how fully Sherman was realizing Busoni's ideal that listening to the piano, when it is properly pedalled, should be like looking at the sky.

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