Review: Cleve brings balance, precision and musicality to another well-rounded Midsummer Mozart program
Written on July 15, 2011 – 1:54 pm | by Cameron Hussey
One of the daunting challenges of programming Mozart’s music is the sheer scope of the composer’s output. Does one focus on the symphonies or short orchestral works? Vocal music, or the concertos?
Happily, the Midsummer Mozart Festival has never seen the choice as an either/or proposition. Under founder and music director George Cleve, the San Francisco-based festival spends each summer exploring every corner of the Mozart canon, and the results tend to be both eclectic and musically rewarding.
This year’s festival — Midsummer Mozart’s 37th — opened Thursday evening at the California Theater in San Jose with a characteristically wide-ranging lineup. The enjoyable two-hour program found Cleve and the orchestra making their way through the Symphony No. 36 in C major, “Linz”; two concert arias sung by soprano Christina Major; and the Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major, “Coronation,” with pianist Jon Nakamatsu as soloist. The Overture to Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” made an attractive curtain-raiser.
Thursday’s performance, with repeats through the weekend in Berkeley, San Francisco and Sonoma, paired Major and Nakamatsu in the concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi de te” (You ask that I forget you.) Composed for the English soprano Anna Selina Storace (Mozart was at the piano in the work’s first performance, in 1787), this is an extended dramatic scene that showcases the singer but places particular demands on the pianist as well.
Major and Nakamatsu were well-matched, with the soprano producing vibrant, muscular tone and conveying the anguish of the text; Nakamatsu, playing the piano obbligato, offered cool, crystalline sound in contrast. Cleve supplied a warm, beautifully colored orchestral backdrop.
Major and the orchestra also performed the aria “Ruhe Sanft” (Rest Safely) from Mozart’s opera “Zaide.” With Cleve drawing luxuriant playing from his ensemble, Major delivered the text in tender, articulate phrases.
Nakamatsu returned as soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 24, “Coronation.” Mozart’s late-life work conjures a celebratory atmosphere — even its central Larghetto seems more measured than sad — and it elicited a keen, agile response from the pianist.
There were a few moments of disconnect in the fleet passagework of the opening Allegro, but Nakamatsu’s playing was crisp and poised in the slow movement; the finale, which calls for a devil-may-care approach from the pianist, brought a rush of precision and high spirits. Under Cleve, the orchestra sounded buoyant. The conductor summoned a wealth of detail from the ensemble: the woodwinds made deft contributions, and the strings, led by concertmaster Robin Hansen, were exemplary.
Cleve also achieved sterling results with Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony: a shapely, seductive performance that emphasized dynamic contrasts and put the brass section on gleaming display.
The program began with a brief but potent reading of the Overture to “Idomeneo.” It was an excellent teaser: when the applause died down, Cleve said “If you’d like to hear the rest of the piece, come back in September.” He’ll be conducting a full production of Mozart’s opera in the California Theater then, in his role as guest conductor for Opera San Jose.
The Midsummer Mozart Festival continues through July 24. Program Two features Cleve conducting the Clarinet Concerto in A major, with Mark Brandenburg as soloist; the aria “Venga la morte…Non temer, amato bene” from “Idomeneo,” featuring tenor Christopher Bengochea; and the Symphonies No. 20 in D major and No. 39 in E-flat major.
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