March 22-28, 2006

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George Cleve

Roman à Cleve: Mozart got the workout he deserves from Maestro George Cleve.

Mining Mozart

Symphony Silicon Valley and conductor George Cleve gave Opera San José's best voices a workout in Mozart program

By Scott MacClelland

AN ALL-MOZART program by Symphony Silicon Valley last weekend was an unabashed infomercial for Opera San José's up-coming production of Don Giovanni. It not only featured 10 singers from OSJ's stable of talented artists but also opened with the overture and two arias from that very opera. The culminating high point of three SSV programs celebrating Mozart, however, was the Requiem in D Minor, the self-made monument to the life of arguably the best-loved of all classical composers.

Indeed, the work is as full of life itself as any Mozart wrote, and such was the spirit of the symphony's performance Sunday afternoon at the California Theatre, when George Cleve conducted and the combined SSV Chorale and San Jose State University Concert Choir sang.

Yet, the work is so top-heavy with choruses as to leave one wondering if Mozart would not have made some significant modifications before delivering it to its patron. (At his death, he had completed only the first movement, leaving most of the rest as work-in-progress.) Compared with the large symphonic mass settings that Haydn composed in the years following Mozart's death, the requiem seems strangely unbalanced. The orchestra, more accompanist than equal partner, is denied its high winds and horns, and gives its prominent solos to bassoon and trombone. Further, by loading the choruses with Bach-like counterpoint, Mozart delivers a thick-textured solemnity throughout.

Performances of the work in recent decades have ranged from full-bodied grandeur to sharply edged drama. Cleve tended toward the former; had he favored the latter, in pace and dynamics, the choral episodes might have stood out more vividly, one against the other. The solo quartet—which gets short shrift in the piece—was Deborah Berioli, Michelle Detwiler, Adam Flowers and Kirk Eichelberger. Chorus and chorale director Elena Sharkova provided Cleve with responsive, polished and room-filling forces. (At the requiem's conclusion, Cleve hushed down the final chord and slipped seamlessly into that tiny miracle from Mozart's last year, Ave verum corpus.)

The arias from Don Giovanni were followed by scenes from The Magic Flute. For the former, tenor Christopher Bengochea stood statuelike in Don Ottavio's "Dalla sua pace," but he put all the expression and color on the voice to excellent effect. Soprano Janelle Laurenti added more facial expressions and physicality to Donna Elvira's "In quali eccesi."

In Flute, sporting a stronger low register, soprano Lori Decter personalized Pamina's lament, "Ach, ich f¸hls." The final scene of Act 2 featured bass Carlos Aguilar and tenor Flowers as the two armed men intoning to the old Lutheran chorale tune "Ach, Gott, von Himmel sieh' darein," in counterpoint to Bachian textures in the orchestra. In turn, Bengochea and Decter joined them, and Cleve immediately followed with the deeply-felt ceremonial (Masonic) prelude to Act 2.

At this concert, Symphony Silicon Valley announced its 2006-07 season. Seven programs, starting in September, will feature guest conductors Emil de Cou, Martin West, Gregory Vajda, Joseph Silverstein, Leslie Dunner and William Boughton. Prominent soloists include cellist Gary Hoffman, pianist Jon Nakamatsu and violinist/composer Mark O'Connor. Jennifer Higdon's outstanding Concerto for Orchestra of 2002, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto no. 1 and O'Connor's Auld Brass Fiddle Concerto will complement plenty of familiar fare.

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