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From A to B

Severance Hall
05/12/2011 -  & May 13, 14*, 2011
Alban Berg: Violin Concerto
Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

Julia Fischer (violin)
The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor)

J. Fischer, F. Welser-Möst (© Roger Mastroianni)

Alban Berg took on the writing of his violin concerto, setting aside his work-in-progress, the opera Lulu, to bring in much needed funds after the Nazis condemned atonal music, his mainstay, as “degenerate” art. He dedicated it to Manon Gropius, the daughter of close friends, who died of complications of polio at the age of 18. Several months after finishing it, Berg died of blood poisoning from a wasp sting. The concerto combines the twelve-tone system and a freer, more lyrical line with the result being that it straddles two worlds but settles in neither.

The work is often criticized for not providing a showcase for virtuoso display but the twenty-eight year old Julia Fischer provided enough technical wizardry to bring the audience to their feet when she finished. Sometimes playing toward the audience, sometimes rotating to face the violin sections, she integrated herself into the orchestra, never fighting their counterpoint but not surrendering ground either. She appeared disconnected from Maestro Welser-Möst – he always puts the soloists out of his line of site – yet her playing remained flawless and he kept the orchestra playing expressively, achieving perfect balance and flow.

Bruckner’s Symphony No.5 is a monumental work and for it, Maestro Welser-Möst augmented the orchestra with extra woodwinds and brass until the sound reverberated throughout the hall. Putting words on paper cannot adequately describe the impact; we were pulled into the middle of the music, carried along on its journey as it moved through the orchestra. This piece definitely suited the Maestro’s sweeping style, but even during the fff passages there was no sense of one section overwhelming the other while the contrasting quiet passages remained crystal clear. Of particular note were soloists Frank Rosenwein on oboe, flutists Joshua Smith and Saeran St.Christopher, and Franklin Cohen on clarinet. The tympani were in the very able hands of Tom Freer and I’ve never heard the instrument played better. At the end of the symphony, there was silence for a moment before the audience leapt, en masse, to its feet and acknowledged both conductor and orchestra with several minutes of enthusiastic applause.

Severance Hall was not as full as it should have been – perhaps the composers on the program caused some anxiety among the more staid devotees – but those who were in attendance heard an evening of great music.

Suzanne Torrey



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