Due to the modest scope of clarinet repertory, clarinetists are ever grateful to both Mozart and Brahms. In their maturity, each composer favored the instrument with several exceptional works.
Monday evening at Sherwood Auditorium, clarinetist Marian Liebowitz gave a winning account of Mozart's valedictory Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra under music director Donald Barra.
Liebowitz, the orchestra's principal clarinet and a member of the San Diego State University music faculty, tamed the work's myriad technical challenges with apparent ease. While she deftly crafted the concerto's sinuous lines of passage work, she tended to mask her emotional involvement in the music with a veneer of cool precision.
Even her instrument's timbre sounded dark and covered. If this detachment prevented Mozart's ethereal adagio movement from working its wonted magic, Liebowitz did find a modicum of exuberance for the final rondo. Barra and the orchestra provided the soloist thoughtful, cohesive accompaniment throughout the work.
Barra opened the program with a spiffy rendition of Mozart's Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro," although he chose an assertive, declamatory style that seemed more appropriate to a Beethoven overture.
Beethoven's incidental music to Goethe's tragedy "Egmont," with narrator Kingsley McLaren and soprano Celeste Tavera, made up the evening's unusual conclusion. Though Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture is a popular work, the other nine movements (several entr'actes, two songs and a concluding victory symphony) are deservedly obscure. But for those who tire of the Beethoven cult, it was refreshing to experience the composer in such mundane self-expression.
Tavera proved a pleasant surprise, declaiming the songs with graceful confidence. Her clear lyric soprano exhibited just the right amount of dramatic edge for the larger-than-life texts. Though McLaren, a local announcer for classical radio station KFSD-FM, made the most of the narration's bombast, its inflated idealism made the Sherwood Auditorium understandably uncomfortable.
The orchestra was at its best form in the Beethoven, with articulate, well-phrased solos essayed by oboist Peggy Michel and trumpeter Alan Siebert.