Mozart, Haydn and Schubert according to Umberto Clerici: A music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

March 31, 2022 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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The SSO hit the popularity bullseye last night with symphonies by Mozart and Schubert along with Haydn’s trumpet concerto.

Umberto Clerici

It also hit a personal bullseye for me because I’d been wanting, for some time, to review a concert where Umberto Clerici cut the air with a baton instead of a cello bow. This time it eventuated – and showed Umberto to be a deft and passionate conductor. On this occasion, he had the precise scoring of the classical period to conduct. I guess there are future teeth to be cut on the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Charles Ives.

The program opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor. To differentiate it from No. 40, also in G Minor, it is often referred to as the ‘little’ G minor symphony.

Although Mozart was only 17 when he wrote it, it carries the authority of a more seasoned composer. Mozart produced 41 symphonies, only two of which are in G minor. Although No. 40 is a crowd favourite, No. 25 matches it in impact. Maybe that’s why it was chosen to open the film Amadeus. It was written in the sturm and drang style, characterized by emotional extremes and sudden changes in tempo and dynamics.

While his 25th symphony may have been popular in Mozart’s time, it was little known and rarely performed after his death. It wasn’t heard in the United States until 1899 and, after that, it wasn’t performed again until 1937. The movie Amadeus reignited it and the SSO kept the torch burning with a crisp reading along with some honied notes from the oboe of Diana Doherty.

Although Haydn wrote 108 symphonies as part of his enormous output, his single trumpet concerto has become one of his most popular works. Another oddity is that it was written for an instrument that is no longer played.  Haydn’s trumpeter friend, Anton Weidinger, probably said something like this in 1796: ‘Hey Joe, forget the better mousetrap, I’ve come up with a better trumpet.’ Weidinger had built a trumpet with a series of holes and keys, dramatically increasing its note range and key signature options. Haydn was so impressed that he wrote his only concerto for the instrument and, with Weidinger as soloist, premiered it 1800. But while the score has prevailed in its original form, the trumpet would go through many more improvements until the current instrument found a regular place with orchestras and soloists. And that’s the instrument soloist David Elton used – to great effect.

Like Umberto Clerici, David Elton forsook his SSO orchestral chair, but will return, whereas Umberto is now looking for stand-up gigs rather than sit-down.

My main problem with this concerto in E flat was that I wanted to hear more of it. It sped along at an invigorating pace, pausing only to allow Elton to execute the blistering cadenza in the first movement. This is not a concerto for a trumpeter from the second eleven. Elton showed why he is so highly regarded in the world of classical trumpet – as performer and teacher.

There are several reasons why Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major is called the Great.

Fraser Beath McEwing

One is to distinguish it from his other symphony in C major: No.6, which fortunately escaped being called the Not Great. Another is to do with its length. Taking close to an hour to perform (if all the repeats are observed), it had to hold the attention of 1850s audiences who were used to going for their snuff breaks between shorter pieces of music. Mozart’s10thsymphony hurtled from soup to nuts in just nine minutes while Haydn also broke the ten-minute barrier with his second symphony. But there is much more to Schubert’s Great than length. In fact, it didn’t seem very long, packed as it is with arresting tunes, vivid contrasts and plenty of drama.

The SSO horns had to hit the ground running, as the symphony begins with a lengthy horn passage. Since the instrument is known for its capricious behaviour, the horn players would have been pleased to get through is as well as they did.

Conductor and orchestra seemed perfectly in sync with one another in the Schubert, probably because they’ve been playing together for years – albeit now in different roles.

I found Umberto Clerici’s conducting style and interpretations quite inspiring. He comes across as confident. He often smiles at his players. He is a master of the pause, whether it is between movements when he leans back on the podium rail while everybody catches their breath, or during a rest in the score when he holds the silence to create dramatic tension.

I have the feeling that whatever he has achieved with his cello will be surpassed by his conducting.

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