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[whitespace] Mozart Wins Again

The SJ Symphony worked interpretative changes on a night of Mozart

By Scott MacClelland

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE of Mozart is that he slices right through the musicians who try to "do" him. Or, put another way, he usually survives his interpreters with more personality than they do. When put to the question, performers of classical music predictably declare that their role is to fulfill the intentions of the composer. But since the written language of music is so inexact, all performers are bound to draw an interpretation.

Therefore, the composer's intentions are forced to undergo variations that evolve stylistic nuances over the passage of time and fashion. How Mozart played his own music echoed briefly through a few succeeding generations, from live witnesses to their students and, in turn, their students. But now, getting to the heart of Mozart's music lies in the hands of scholars and historic forensic surgeons.

But one thing doesn't change. Interpreters restore life to the music, or they don't, in spite of themselves. With creative personality, they will show us something new and unfamiliar. Or, content to reflect a literal reading, they may provide good service. Of course, we have all heard performances that seemed to miss the point entirely.

Mozart, however, almost always manages to hold his legendary position in the pantheon of timeless and visionary artists. Even in the face of the previous San Jose Symphony presentation of a Mozart piano concerto, the mischievous soloist, Alexsander Verdar, had his eccentric way with the composer, delighting some (myself included) and infuriating others, yet leaving no real damage on the music itself.

Once again, Mozart proved he could race in a steeplechase and still come out the winner. Leonid Grin's all-Mozart program, heard last Sunday in Cupertino, confirmed once again that the composer knew how to fortify his music against the distractions, ignorances and uncertainties of his executants.

Joseph Kalichstein (member of the respected Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio) played the opening movement of the Piano Concerto no. 23 in A in a straightforward, unadventurous, even diffident manner. He saved his best, however, for the grieving slow movement, a tragedy in all but name, as sad as anything Mozart wrote.

Here, Kalichstein probed the sparing notes of a thin, solitary melody to shape the portrait of a young man doomed to an early grave. An energetic "protest" interrupted the mood but subsided again to a ghostly pizzicato on the strings and even fewer notes from the keyboard. If the goal was to prove that less is more, this passage could hardly make a better case.

The finale recaptured the mood of the opening movement, only with more involvement. Especially in the last two movements, the soloist took the initiative to engage the winds in dialog. Among them, bassoonist Deborah Kramer carried a primary role.

Echoes of the concerto's andante returned to haunt passages in the Requiem, Mozart's last great opus and the wonder of its age. Particularly, the Lacrimosa speaks in tones of similar personal sorrow. Surrounding it are the surprisingly dramatic choruses that reflect the counterpoint of J.S. Bach while recharging the classical style with revolutionary force.

Grin led his orchestra--two trombones replacing the traditional horns--and the choruses of San Jose State in a sturdy, confident performance that paraded the composer's inventions as one vivid picture after another.

After hearing the oratorios of Handel in London, Haydn would soon quit writing symphonies and turn instead to symphonic masses and oratorios. But without a doubt, Mozart's Requiem empowered the older composer, just as it would ultimately impact the younger Beethoven.

The vocal quartet--Marvis Martin, Jacalyn Kreitzer, Algirdas Janutas and Benno Schollum--imparted an attractive intimacy to the performance but in the scheme had nowhere near as much to do as the chorus. Indeed, the choral force was as unified and commanding as ever, authoritative and responsive to Grin's direction. As is usually the case, it was the tenor section that had to fight hardest to equal the power of the other sections.

Grin opened the program with the rarely heard overture to La Clemenza di Tito, that curious Baroque-style opera seria that Mozart regressed to late in his career. Indeed, the overture itself sounded as oddly old-fashioned as the Requiem sounded radically futuristic.

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From the November 23-29, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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