Maestro George Cleve’s Midsummer Mozart Festival orchestra performed four of Mozart’s early works on July 17 at Berkeley’s St. John’s Presbyterian Church. Cleve’s disciplined concentration on Mozart has allowed him to discover and reveal qualities and nuances in both acknowledged masterpieces and obscure gems that might otherwise go undiscovered.
If you missed last weekend’s concerts, you can still catch their second and final program this weekend which focuses on Mozart’s compositions from 1781 through 1786.
Last week’s program began with the Divertimento No. 2 in D major. This was written in 1772 to be played as background music during celebrations of either the birthday of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg or the end of the academic year. Mozart wrote background music the way Art Tatum played cocktail piano. Although the unique element in this composition is the beautiful four horn chorale, the star of the piece was Maria Tamburrino on flute. Her lyrical playing gave this diversion its center.
The Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in E flat major, featuring violinist Robin Hansen, who never played better, and violist Victor Romasevich, was the highpoint of the evening. The back and forth movement and weaving interplay between the “male” violin and the “female” viola, like twisting strands of DNA locked in a helical embrace while performing a cosmic pas de deux, came off beautifully even though the viola’s sound was a little hard to hear at times.
The second half of the concert began with the ballet music for Les Petits Riens. After the choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre stiffed Mozart, he then passed off the compositions as his own. These dozen or so brief numbers run the gamut from stately court dances to rustic Scottish jigs.
The evening ended with the “Paris” Symphony No. 31 in D major. Here, Mozart was at once able to give the superficial French audience the pretty toy he knew they craved while transforming popular effects into something deeper, more substantial and of a rarer beauty. Cleve chose to play the supposed second version of the andante movement that Mozart wrote after the piece was premiered.
This weekend, the final program, focusing on Mozart’s compositions from 1781 through 1786, will be performed Friday in San Francisco, Saturday in Sonoma and on Sunday in Berkeley.
Mozart’s first of eight full-scale operas was Idomeneo, Rè di Creta, composed for Elector Karl Theodor of Bavaria. For this program, Cleve will perform only the strange overture with its ominous, disappearing ending, so unlike the usual buildup before an opera begins. The music seems to dry up suddenly like water sucked into desert sand.
In 1783 Mozart made his first trip back to Salzburg after leaving the Archbishop’s service. It was also the first time his wife of one year, Constanze, was to meet Wolfgang’s disapproving father, Leopold. Mozart had vowed to write a mass when Constanze was ill. She performed this challenging but never completed work at the abbey church of St. Peter in Salzburg during this visit.
Now known as the Great Mass in C minor, it will feature Christina Major and Deborah Berioli, sopranos; Joseph Muir, tenor; Joseph Wright, baritone; and The Cantabile Chorale. There was no division in Mozart’s mind between sacred and secular and he used every resource available to him to create this human replica of angelic choirs: this is the music of the spheres. Mozart wrote only a few pieces of sacred music after leaving Salzburg, but every one is a masterpiece with this coming in just a bit behind his Requiem.
World-renowned pianist Seymour Lipkin will perform the Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major, said to be the most technically challenging of all of Mozart’s piano concertos. Lipkin will also be at the keyboard to accompany Christina Major singing “Ch’io mi scordi di te?,” Scena and Rondo for Soprano, Piano Obligato and Orchestra. It fits nicely on this program because it was written to be inserted into performances of Idomeneo. Mozart composed this heartbreaking, demanding concert aria for his English friend Nancy Storace’s Viennese farewell concert with himself at the keyboard. This program should be a powerhouse event with four remarkable works from such varied genres being performed.
If you miss the live concerts you can still pick up on the Festival Orchestra by getting their recordings. One, which is sold at the concerts, features two symphonies performed at previous festivals. The other, three non-stop sparkling performances, was given out to those who attended the June benefit, and features Jon Nakamatsu performing Piano Concerto No. 27; Dorota Anderszewska performing Violin Concerto No. 3; and the Haffner Symphony No. 35. Both the orchestra and the guest artists play at the highest level.
The second program of this year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival will be presented, Friday, July 22 at 8 p.m. at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco; Saturday, July 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma (outdoors); and Sunday, July 24 at 7 p.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Berkeley.
Each concert is preceded by a free half hour talk about the music and Mozart. For tickets and information about the festival programs and recordings call (415) 627-9145 or see www.midsummermozart.org. l