Arts & Events

New: George Cleve Kicks off Midsummer Mozart 2015

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday July 21, 2015 - 02:13:00 PM

In this, the 41st season of Midsummer Mozart, founding director George Cleve scheduled Program I with Mozart’s 41st Symphony in C Major, as well as such less frequently encountered works as the Oboe Concerto in C Major, the Horn Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major, the overture to the one-act opera Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) and several rarely performed arias. On Friday evening, July 17, the Midsummer Mozart company performed at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Maestro Cleve, who now uses a wheelchair, conducted only the opening Impresario overture and the final work, Mozart’s 41st or “Jupiter” Symphony. All the other works by Mozart were ably conducted by Assistant Conductor, Florin Parvelescu. 

I have only seen Mozart’s The Impresario once; but this one-act opera is not to be dismissed. It was composed in 1886 at the same time that Mozart was working on Le Nozze di Figaro, and it was performed in Vienna in a pairing with Antonio Salieri’s fine one-act opera Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the Music and then the Words”). The overture is robust and has much to recommend it. Maestro George Cleve led a brisk reading of this fine overture.  

Next, Florin Parvelscu led soprano Christina Major accompanied by basset horn player Natalie Parker in an aria from Mozart’s late opera La Clemenza di Tito, which he composed in a rush while also finishing up Die Zauberflöte. This aria, Non piu di fiore, was ably sung by Christina Major, who has an impressive range featuring chest tones in the low notes and surprising head tones in the high notes, with only a hint of shrillness in the highest reaches of the soprano range. Nonetheless, she sang quite admirably in this aria, as well as in the concert aria, Nehmt meinen Dank, the latter originally written by Mozart for Aloysia Lange. Natalie Parker’s basset horn accompaniment in the former aria was exquisite. 

Following these arias, Parvelescu conducted oboist Laura Griffiths as soloist in Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 285d/314. This work, which is sometimes listed as K. 271k, was written by Mozart for Salzburg’s Italian oboist Giuseppe Ferlandis. Later, Mozart reworked this concerto for flute instead of oboe, in an attempt to fulfill his obligations to Mannheim’s Dutch flutist Ferdinand De Jean. However, the score of the original C Major Oboe Concerto has come down to us intact; and Maestro Cleve scheduled it as a pendant to the great C Major 41st Symphony. Oboist Laura Griffith was terrific in navigating the solo part in this concerto. Her musicianship was most evident in the elaborate cadenzas in each movement. This is a delightful work that deserves to be heard more often. 

After intermission, Parvelescu returned to lead the orchestra and horn soloist Glen Swarts in Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major, K. 417. Mozart’s four Horn Concertos were famously recorded by English horn player Dennis Brain in the 1950s; and these recordings still set the standard for these pieces. The Second Horn Concerto is mostly known for its third and final movement, a robust Rondo. Glen Swarts played this movement with fine panache. Now Maestro Cleve returned to the podium to conduct the final work of Program I, Mozart’s 41st or “Jupiter” Symphony in C major. No one knows who first called this the “Jupiter” Symphony; but in any case it is a misnomer in most senses. There is nothing of divine detachment in this work, which instead is intensely personal. The opening movement features dramatic contrasts of light and dark, soft and powerful passages, with sudden outbursts in an unexpected minor key. The second movement, an Andante cantabile, offers a somber, wistful theme with strangely displaced accents. The third movement, a Minuetto, offers sighing chromaticisms of great emotional feeling. At last comes the finale, a remarkable composition consisting of five themes all worked into sonata form with a fugal texture of incredible elaboration. Eric Blom describes it as “combining now any two of the subjects, now a single one in canon, and again mixing both procedures together. The dizzy culmination comes in the coda, where all five themes appear together in various juxtapositions.” Of special note is Mozart’s use of the brass section in these fugal textures. Maestro Cleve led the orchestra in a majestic reading of this great, final symphony by Mozart. 

Midsummer Mozart’s Program II, featuring Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade and soloist Seymour Lipkin in Mozart’s 27th Piano Concerto, plays July 23 at 7:30 pm at Bing Concert Hall, Stanford; July 24 at 8:00 pm at San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and July 26 at 7:00 pm at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church.