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The Blossom Music Center
09/10/2011 -  
James Oliverio: Dynasty
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.9 (“Choral”) in D minor, Opus 125

Paul Yancich, Mark Yancich (timpani), Janice Chandler-Eteme (soprano), Kelley O’Connor (mezzo-soprano), Sean Panikkar (tenor), Ryan McKinny (bass-baritone)
Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco (director), The Cleveland Orchestra, Jahja Ling (conductor)

P. Yancich (© Roger Mastroianni)

This was the final concert of the 2011 Blossom Festival and it opened with a piece I had been looking forward to hearing. The soloists, Paul Yancich, principal timpani with the Cleveland Orchestra, his brother Mark, principal timpani with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the composer, James Oliverio, have been friends since they were at conservatory together. This many layered relationship was evident in Dynasty, premiered in Atlanta in June of 2011 and played here this night. I’ll admit I was intrigued by the idea of a “timpani concerto” but had no idea what I would hear-little did I know that I would be frozen in my seat, anxious to hear each new movement but hoping that it wouldn’t come to a close and everyone, from youngsters to veteran concert goers was quiet and attentive during the piece. Each man had 5 timpani and in their hands those instruments performed in astonishing ways! The third movement, Interlude, was just the timpani without any orchestral accompaniment, the line being passed back and forth from one side of the podium to the other. The subtleties of the orchestra were incorporated and featured solos were heard from the dual harps, English horn, alto flute and French horn. The sum of the whole added up to the most amazing twenty minutes of the summer.

J. Ling (© David Hartig)

Maestro Ling is the very essence of an involved conductor. Always animated, he bounced up on his toes, was airborne now and then and used his hands to push, pull and mold the sections of the orchestra. Never had I heard the exquisite pianissimi in the strings played more beautifully than in this evening’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The Maestro worked each of the string sections as if they were a solo instrument, the lines clear and precise. When the woodwinds became just a bit “overexcited” in the second movement he pulled them back in line gently so as not to dampen their spirit but to incorporate it into the joyous tone.

I do have a problem with the “powers that be” within the orchestra as to their choice of soloists hired to sing together in particular groupings. Often the mezzo line sits too low for the performer attempting it- that fach can be tricky and putting a lyric mezzo in to sing a contralto line just doesn’t work. Balance is all-important and if the singers aren’t considerate of the hall’s acoustics and of each other, ensembles turn into what sounds like a free- for- all of soloists who just happen to be in the same place at the same time rather than the melodious blending of voices the composers intended. That was precisely what happened in this concert. In all honesty, these soloists may have been victimized by the sheer size of the amphitheatre, the rapidly shifting weather and the length of time they had between warm up and performing. Mr. McKinny opened the final movement, his German diction crystal clear but without the projection needed to bring the out the majestic properties of his solo. I’ve heard the tenor, Sean Panikkar perform before so I know that he possesses a fine voice but by positioning the folder so high as to obscure his face he then muffled his sound. His top sounded pinched and he appeared to straining to reach those higher notes. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor had a very pretty, round, dark tone, at least what I could hear of her, and was the only one of the four that appeared to remember that this was a joyous piece, always smiling not only when she was singing, but when listening to the other soloists and the entire chorus. However, she was inaudible in the very lower range. Unfortunately, she and the others were overpowered by the large voice of soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, who sang without music in her hands. She struggled to find a comfortable spot, drifting in and out of pitch until she was able to rein her voice in and blend in harmony with the other three soloists. The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus had been well rehearsed and sounded magnificent.

This concert was a wonderful way to close the Blossom Music Festival 2011. The Cleveland Orchestra, guest conductors, soloists and choruses all contributed to make the season a success.

Suzanne Torrey



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