Conductor George Cleve
Having led an extremely effective performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica,” conductor George Cleve ended the 2013-2014 season of Symphony Silicon Valley, Saturday, June 7 at the California Theatre, a concert that included Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 in G Major “Military” and Carl Maria von Weber’s charming Andante & Hungarian Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra, featuring the SSV principal, Deborah Kramer.
Watching George Cleve lead his accomplished players, we might have been reminded of such maestros as Fritz Reiner and Pierre Monteux, whose minimal gestures on the podium were supplemented by a most persuasively efficient stick technique, a flexible and expressive baton which anticipates rhythmic impulse and articulation, while the left hand selectively adds expressivity. From the outset of Haydn’s “Military” Symphony (1794), we found ourselves in a robust, athletic universe, whose dimensions – Cleve took the first movement repeat – well anticipate the developmental procedures Beethoven would both refine and expand to unprecedented proportions. Cleve’s readings remain literal and clear, without mannerism or a propensity to metaphysics. His wind section stands out for its principal flute, oboe, and clarinet (and tympanist Robert J. Erlebach hits his targets every time).
Meanwhile, Haydn’s enduring achievement in London was the set of a dozen symphonies he wrote for Salomon’s concerts, which, taken together, comprise one of the most sustained bursts of inspiration and lasting achievements in the annals of music. While firmly devoted to the structure and learned style of Classicism, Haydn’s experimental touches reflect a sense of fun, joy and adventure that fuse a canny intellect and mercurial emotions, kindled by Haydn’s inventive optimism. For the second movement Allegretto that bequeaths the work its martial epithet, trumpets James F. Dooley and John King provided the janissary fanfares, supported by an able battery of percussion and triangle. The frequent incursion of rustic humor in Haydn – his stops and starts, his playful adjustments in musical texture and the avoidance of expected tonalities – all blended marvelously to set the tone for this evening’s exploration of Classicism in the throes of incendiary transformation.
The burgeoning of Romanticism makes its appearance in the works of Carl Maria von Weber, who’s 1809 Andante and Hungarian Rondo, Op. 35 was originally set for viola and orchestra. Weber recast the piece in 1813 for a Munich instrumentalist who obviously enjoyed Weber’s incomparable ability to mold his music according to national flavors. Deborah Kramer’s bassoon skills easily displayed the instrument’s capacity for colors chromatic and lyric, for heartfelt melody and rustic ribaldry. The first part, in concertante style, provided a theme and variations. Then, ushered in by French horn and strings, the bravura section of the piece proceeded in jubilant color-fest, exploiting clever antiphons of bassoon and instrumental groups in the manner of a deft concerto. In the more sedate passages, Kramer proffered her instrument’s capacity for intimacy. Once the Hungarian motif established itself, we could well whistle or sing it ourselves, fully cognizant of how much Schubert and Liszt would soon follow Weber’s infectious example.
Once Beethoven enters the musical context, the universe immediately assumes Promethean dimensions. Here, too, Cleve took the first movement repeat, rendering a towering monument doubly intimidating. Claude Rains said it best, playing a composer in the film Deception: “If you want to learn humility, try sharing a program with Beethoven.” In the case of the Eroica Symphony (1804), we need not appeal to any of Napoleon’s megalomaniac antics to explain the competing forces of the revolutionary first movement: an asymmetry in metrics and accents will “lure” the composition to a “false” harmonic and agogic compromise, only to be rejected at the end, when meter, rhythm, and accent synchronize in a jubilant overcoming of former weakness. True, the C Minor Marche funèbre “celebrates” a tragic moment, and we can well look to our own troubled times for justification. Cleve’s forces in this Adagio assai rendered the austere, contrapuntal aspects of the piece with moving, authentic gravitas. Kudos to oboe Pamela Hakl for inspired playing throughout. Lithe articulation and alert response marked the two latter movements, the Scherzo atremble with nervous vitality, while the famed “contredanse” evolved in measured, ardent periods, often with the melody’s singing over taut pedal points. Of the three brilliant flute players, we had wonderful, bravura consistency from Maria Temburrino. Leave it to conductor Cleve to recognize his gifted players, accepting the tumultuous applause from an audience well reminded as to the power of this particular symphony from Beethoven, “the man who freed music.”