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March 22, 2006 (Review of "Mozart Requiem")

Vocal Mozart

By Scott MacClelland, Classical Voice
The untimely death of Mozart in 1791 was originally felt most deeply by his immediate family and by his best friend, Franz Josef Haydn, who for the rest of his life never completely stopped grieving. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Mozart himself was planning to die. His plate was full, with commissions under negotiation, tours actively planned, and professional opportunities promising financial security on the horizon.

So it is altogether fitting to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with his Requiem in D Minor, a work as full of life itself as any he wrote, even though his death stopped it in midstream. Such was the spirit of Symphony Silicon Valley's production of the work Sunday afternoon at San Jose's California Theatre, when George Cleve conducted and the combined SSV Chorale and San Jose State Concert Choir sang.

The work is so top-heavy with its chorus 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 in various stages of development.) Compared with the large symphonic mass settings by Haydn in the decade following Mozart's death, the requiem seems strangely unbalanced. The orchestra, denied its high winds and horns, loses individual color in favor of block sonorities, its prominent solos assigned to bassoon and trombone, supported by organ. Moreover, its role is more that of accompanist than equal partner. By further loading the chorus with Bach-like counterpoint, Mozart sustains a thick-textured solemnity throughout.

A moderate reading

Performances of the work in recent decades have ranged from full-bodied grandeur to sharply edged drama. Cleve took a road in between, tending toward the former. Drawn from the formidable talent-cache of Opera San Jose, the solo quartet which gets rather short shrift in the piece were Deborah Berioli, Michele Detwiler, Adam Flowers, and Kirk Eichelberger. Chorus and chorale director Elena Sharkova provided Cleve with responsive, energetic, and polished 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 all-Mozart program opened with what could be called an advert for Opera San Jose's upcoming production of Don Giovanni, including the overture finely articulated in favor of all the details and two arias. They, and scenes from The Magic Flute, featured more of Opera San Jose's vocal talent.

With two programs remaining this season, in April and May, SSV has announced its plans for 2006-2007. 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. Among major works are Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto, Verdi's "Manzoni" Requiem, and Brahms' Double Concerto in A Minor.

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Supported, in part, by a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José