09/29/2011 - & September 30, October 8, 2011
Igor Stravinsky: Concerto in D
Andrea Gabrieli: Missa Brevis (transcribed for brass)
Igor Stravinsky: Mass
Pyotyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4 in F minor, Opus 36
Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus, Robert Porco (director), The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst (director)
F. Welser-Möst (© Roger Mastroianni)
Cleveland loves its orchestra and if the beautiful sound pouring from the stage was an indicator, the feeling is mutual. The first piece of the evening, Stravinsky’s Concerto in D , the “Basel” concerto, scored for string orchestra, hasn’t been played by this group in almost 40 years. Although they always seem to give their all, it’s exciting for the orchestra to play something new to most of them and that enthusiasm was conveyed to the audience. Its wavering modality and fierce, biting tones, has made the “Basel” a favorite selection for choreographers, having been made into no fewer than three different ballets. Although it’s easy to feel more than a little off-balance by the major vs. minor conflict, the orchestra played wonderfully, especially in the third movement Rondo.
To be honest, I don’t know what Maestro Welser-Möst had in mind when pairing Gabrieli’s Missa Brevis with Stravinsky’s Mass and alternating the movements of one with the other. Stravinsky loved Venice, so much so that he chose the city as his final resting place, and Gabrieli spent his entire life there; both works are austere but feature like treatments of the brass instruments. The music in both was lovely and therefore it was far better to sit back and simply enjoy what one was hearing than to get bogged down in the “Whys and Wherefores”. The Mass was scored for oboes, English horn, bassoons, trumpet and trombones plus four-part chorus, while Gabrieli’s work was transcribed for a brass quartet of two trumpets, horn and trombone. The latter grouping, in particular, produced some glorious music, however the brass instruments had a tendency to “go cold” during the lengthy pauses, causing a few pitch problems which were quickly corrected. The Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus was very well prepared and sounded splendid.
If the other pieces were new to the orchestra and much of the audience, it was the much more familiar Symphony No.4 of Tchaikovsky that rocked Severance Hall on opening night. It’s the sort of sweeping piece that seems to suit Maestro Welser-Möst’s style the best, allowing him to rest his right hand by his side while using his left to minutely control every little nuance of the music and to tweak each section, each chair, until he hears precisely what he wants. Tchaikovsky “recycled” his own music so often that we catch a few notes from his ballets and other works here and there but then the flash is gone, only to hear the line develop in a different fashion. Brief solo passages from the clarinet, flute and oboe (Frank Rosenwein’s second movement solo was a standout) were well supported by the timpani and the entire percussion section. The Maestro achieved the most exquisite pianissimo passages one moment only to build to a fff that was felt throughout the hall. From the Russian folk tunes that threaded their way through the work to the delicate pizzicato strings, the piece worked its way back to the Finale with its loud A-flats and cymbal crashes, thus helping the Cleveland Orchestra to show why it’s considered one of the finest in the world.
The applause led to multiple curtain calls and a brief speech by the Maestro himself - “It’s good to be back and it’s good to have you back” - and an unannounced encore from the orchestra. Opening night was a wonderful evening all around and a very auspicious beginning to the 2011-2012 season.