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George Cleve conducts the final Midsummer Mozart preview at Noontime Concerts™

The seamless joining of first oboe (top staff) and first clarinet (third staff) in a single "singing" voice in Mozart's K. 361
The seamless joining of first oboe (top staff) and first clarinet (third staff) in a single "singing" voice in Mozart's K. 361
from the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe Web site (fair use)

Today’s concert in the Noontime Concerts™ series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”) at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral presented the last of the three concerts previewing this year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival, organized by George Cleve. Cleve himself conducted the only work on the program, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 361 in B-flat major, the “Gran Partita” serenade. This is scored for a “mini-orchestra” consisting of two oboes (Laura Griffiths and Ruth Stuart), two clarinets (Mark Brandenburg and Larry London), two basset horns (Tony Striplen and Diane Maltester), two bassoons (Debbie Kramer and Erin Irvine), four horns (Glen Swarts, David Goldklang, Katie Dennis, and Beth Zare), and one bass (Mark Wallace).

This is one of Mozart’s longest “symphonic” compositions. The opening movement is in sonata form with a Largo introduction. This is followed by two pairs of movements, each a Menuetto with multiple trios followed by an Adagio. There is then an extended theme-and-variations movement, leading to a concluding Molto Allegro Finale in rondo form. The overall duration tends to take about 40 minutes, longer than any of the compositions Mozart called symphonies.

K. 361 may also be described as Mozart’s most sophisticated love letter to the wind family. What makes instruments in this ensemble particularly interesting is that each one has multiple registers, each with its own characteristic sonority. Thus, the way in which Mozart deploys this ensemble almost makes it sound as if more than thirteen instruments were involved in the performance process. At the same time, when all of the instruments play together as a single choir, the conductor always has to be particularly attentive to the overall sonority that Mozart had in mind, meticulously balancing each individual voice to achieve that goal.

Cleve is no stranger to this composition or the rich set of demands it makes on the conductor. By my records I last heard him perform K. 361 during the 2008 Midsummer Mozart Festival. He is clearly aware of the full palette of diverse sonorities offered by his twelve wind players; and he is just as sensitive of the need to balance all of those sonorities practically on a note-by-note basis as Mozart’s music unfolds. He is also just as aware of the unfolding of the overall architecture and the need to establish the uniqueness of each movement. Thus, the first Adagio emerges almost as if it were an operatic solo aria in which the “voice” is “sung” by an almost seamless series of exchanges between first oboe and first clarinet (illustrated in the above score excerpt). (In Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, this movement is Antonio Salieri’s “first contact” with Mozart’s music.) Furthermore, because K. 361 is so rich in both low-level and high-level details, Cleve has the capacity to bring a freshness of execution each time he performs this piece.

K. 361 thus emerged at today’s concert as the perfect offering to encourage audiences to seek out the Festival concerts themselves, particularly the only one that will be performed in San Francisco this coming July 25.