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No Mistake on This Lake: The Cleveland Orchestra in Palm Beach

Palm Beach
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
01/23/2023 -  
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”, D. 759
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, “Pathétique”, op. 74

The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser‑Möst (conductor)

F. Welser‑Möst (© Julia Wesely)

The Cleveland Orchestra long maintained a relationship with Florida, filling an annual residence in Miami Beach. This year, as northern capitals become ever bleaker, it is on tour throughout what many Americans regard as the “free state,” visiting Miami, Naples, and West Palm Beach among its stops. Miami’s audience was lucky enough to hear the orchestra with Georgian star violin soloist Lisa Batiashvili in Tchaikovsky’s concerto for that instrument, but Palm Beach had a fine pair of treats in this short concert of the composer’s Symphony No. 6, preceded by Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, noted as his Eighth, but not performed until long after his death.

Schubert, who died at age 31 in 1828, wrote more than a thousand distinct pieces of music. As Beethoven said, he possessed a “divine spark.” But his Symphony No. 8, which he wrote in 1822, was left unfinished through his remaining six years of life. Only two movements were completed, with fragments of what is believed to be a planned third movement left over. No one agrees on why he failed to complete his symphony. Some suggest he had a flare up of the syphilis, which is believed to have claimed his life. Others suppose he lost interest as other projects came up. We do know that in 1823, he gave the incomplete score to a prominent Viennese family in what may have settlement of a debt. The first performance only came in 1865, by which time musical tastes had progressed into the deeper Romantic idiom Schubert presaged. The critic Eduard Hanslick reviewed it in favorable comparison to Richard Wagner, whose Tristan und Isolde premiered that year, suggesting that Schubert’s earlier music contained a refined approach to instruments that Wagner lacked.

Longtime Cleveland music director Franz Welser‑Möst approached the music with a fine balance between the lower strings the dominate the symphony’s first movement, Allegro moderato, formed as a sonata. The Cleveland’s performers played with arch elegance before launching into the second, Andante con moto movement, sculpted around another sonata form following a gentle allegro introduction.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is less mysterious but more tragic than the Schubert counterpart. We have a firm record of the composer’s intentions, which is to lay out the course of an adult life – “LIFE itself” in the composer’s phrase – and we know that it premiered in 1893, just two weeks before Tchaikovsky’s death in what may have been a suicide. The symphony’s introductory movement, with sweeping melodies often used in film to indicate bittersweet romance, emerged beautifully in what the composer intended to be a depiction of young adult yearning, all confident and full of expectations. The second movement, a waltz form Allegro con grazia, indicates young love in all its delicate balances. The stormier Allegro molto vivace third movement is meant to convey disappointment, though its convivial march motifs leave the impression of triumph – a kind of successful stormy forties. Finally, the Adagio lamentoso brings on the embrace of infinity. Here Welser‑Möst’s direction may have favored precision over feeling, and his account was far from definitive, but for technical skill he certainly preserves Cleveland as an American orchestral capital.

Paul du Quenoy



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