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Things Old and New

Severance Hall
05/26/2011 -  & May 28, 2011
Jörg Widmann: Flûte en Suite
Gioachino Rossini: Stabat Mater

Joshua Smith (flute), Malin Hartelius (soprano), Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo-soprano), John Tessier (tenor), Luca Pisaroni (bass-baritone)
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco (director), The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor)

J. Smith (© Roger Mastroianni)

This final concert of the regular season was yet another program comprised of diverse elements. Although the orchestra is superb, when the Maestro is on the podium sections are allowed to forget that they are part of an ensemble with the result being that soloists struggle to be heard and the audience doesn’t get the full experience of the performance. Tonight was no exception.

The opening piece on the program was written by Jörg Widmann who has been the orchestra’s Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow for the past two seasons; this is the third of three works they have presented. I am not a fan of ultra-modern music; I am a fan of Joshua Smith, the principal flutist of the Cleveland Orchestra, so I was eager to hear this new suite written especially for him. Mr. Smith had little time to prepare, as the piece arrived, movement by movement, only completed a few weeks ago, but he played with self-assurance and brio. Each of the self-styled dances in the suite afforded the solo flute a different coloration and featured a different instrumental group from the orchestra. The opening Allemande utilized the entire family of flutes: bass, alto and piccolo, while the strings and brass stepped to the forefront in other sections. The music was very atonal in the first five dances, veered into the traditional in the Barcarole only to launch back into a lengthy and angular Cadenza. The audience seemed almost confused until the last dance, the Badinerie, when the hall came to collective attention at the sound of the entire orchestra playing some plundered Bach. The latter was quite unexpected considering the dissonance of the rest of the program, but evidently sprang from the baroque chords that were underlying here and there in the previous dances. This piece was written to showcase Smith’s luxuriant tone and virtuoso technique and both soloist and composer received standing ovations.

Rossini’s Stabat Mater is one of those pieces whose text just doesn’t seem to match the mood of the music and the composer was roundly condemned by some European critics. The Stabat Mater is a series of lamentations on the grief of Mary, “Mother of Sorrows” (Mater dolorosa), who “stood in tears beside the cross”. It consists of twenty verses, each of three lines in a fixed rhyme scheme and Rossini incorporated the twenty verses into ten musical segments, arias, duets, quartets and ensembles. Although it opens in a dark mood with bassoons and cellos outlining an ascending G minor triad, and ends with an enormous, grave, instrumental and vocal fugue, some of the music of the interior sections sound light and jolly. The tenor aria, with its carefree tune is often performed apart from the entire work, as it requires bravura technique. John Tessier, the tenor soloist, had a voice that was ideally suited to Rossini’s operas, but was often overwhelmed by the overloud orchestra here. The mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus had trouble as the tessitura sat well below her comfort range, causing her real trouble in the duet. She sang looking down into her folder and that, coupled with the very low range made her sound almost too faint to hear in her aria. She, along with Malin Hartelius, are familiar faces in Cleveland since Maestro Welser-Möst selects them almost every time he needs female singers, so we know that they are more than capable, but this night Ms. Hartelius also had trouble, sounding muffled in when singing accompanied and shrill in the quieter passages. Luca Pisaroni was in fine voice in his solo and in the recitative with the chorus although his timing was off and he came in early in two places. The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus was wonderful, as they always are, filling Severance Hall with their rich sound. As the Finale: Amen. In sempiterna saecula came to a close the audience burst into applause in appreciation for not only this evening of music but for a season of delightful concerts.

Suzanne Torrey



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