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December 14-20, 2005

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Mr. Mozart

Symphony Silicon Valley, with George Cleve at the podium, explores the multitudes of Mozart

By Scott MacClelland

YOU'D THINK that Tchaikovsky's tribute to Mozart, his favorite composer, would take at least a somewhat solemn turn. But that very homage, the Suite in G, Mozartiana, remains frothy and superficial through most of its pages. Over the weekend, Symphony Silicon Valley, under guest conductor George Cleve, rose to the surface of the piece, complete with show-off solos for violin and clarinet and punctuated by plenty of cymbal smacks.

Each of the four movements is drawn from one obscure Mozart piano original or another. (Actually, the Preghiera is drawn from Liszt's marzipan piano transcription of Mozart's choral motet Ave verum corpus.) The variations of the finale are based on a cute tune from an opera by Gluck whose title translated into Arabic would be Hajj.

While it is a pleasure to witness Cleve once again conducting this descendant of the San Jose Symphony, which he directed for two decades, he now appears to be typecast as a Mozart specialist. (Except for Brahms' First Symphony with Symphony Silicon Valley next month, his other repertoire here, including Opera San José's next production, is all Mozart, or Mozart in drag as noted above.) However, that would be unfortunate for local audiences. Cleve is one of those maestros who, like Charles Mackerras, currently being lauded in London on his 80th birthday, can do anything well.

The real test of his talent was Sunday's reading of Mozart's Prague Symphony. The piece stands, along with the three symphonies that followed, as unsurpassed in the pantheon of the classical symphony. Here, Mozart blew past his mentor (and friend) Haydn, opening a portal into a domain so original and visionary that no composer since, not least Beethoven, has far ventured there. (The impact of this work on Haydn can be found in the brooding, dramatic introduction to the first movement of his last symphony, the London.) Moreover, it was noted at its introduction in the late 1780s to be considerably more difficult to perform than was conventional at the time.

Cleve gracefully shaped and sculpted his reading for pace and dynamics, for its brights and its shadows. Even more can be said for his balancing of textures, no small challenge given the ever-developing interplay between winds, brass and strings. The slow movement, unprecedented in its breadth and expressive subtlety, appeared as a gallery of family portraits (one of which is the likely ancestor of Elgar's Enigma Variations.)

To underscore the antiphonal call/response between the first and second violins, Cleve deployed them left and right, with the violas and cellos in between. This proved essential for the symphony and for the opening Sinfonia Concertante for flute, oboe, horn and bassoon. In that work, with its suspect orchestral score (no autograph has yet been documented), the focus falls on the four solo winds, in this case the estimable principals of their sections, Maria Tamburrino, Pamela Hakl, David Strung and Deborah Kramer. The finale variations featured witty combinations of the solo players and no small virtuosity, especially with the coloratura horn display in one of them, an almost unbelievable feat in those days before the invention of valves.

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