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December 15, 2005 (Review of "Mozart Festival")

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

By Scott MacClelland, San Jose Metro
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…

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… However…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…

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 Sprung 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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