Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
Hindemith: Symphony: Mathis der Maler [Matthias the Painter]
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") in E-flat major, Op. 73, Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor.

My mother is visiting this weekend -- not so much to visit me, per se, as to visit Treasures of Heaven at the Cleveland Museum of Art. As she sits across the table from me, I know she would argue the point quite vociferously. It's OK, Mom, I'm glad you're here. While she was here, she joined me at Severance Hall because, in her words, "I wanted to see a place that brings you much joy and happiness" (between you and me, I think I've also driven her past Severance Hall enough times on previous trips that she thought it was about time I took her to the hall). This was both her first time in Severance Hall, and her first time hearing the Cleveland Orchestra perform.

During intermission she leaned over to me and said "I think you need to give the percussionists some love when you blog about this concert"--probing for the "Why?" she made a good point: Both timing and control need to be perfect; a misplaced chime or a timpani roll allowed to reverberate longer than intended has the potential to throw the entire work off center, and more often than not unlike, say, the violas, this responsibility lies in the hands of one musician. It's a good point. It's also worth mentioning, my counter argument of course, is that the entire orchestra operation is a tightly choreographed, and in the Cleveland Orchestra's case well-oiled machine.

As I said somewhere else, perhaps "orchestra work" is better substituted for "teamwork" -- as a sports team is nowhere near as dependent on the split-second synchronizations and synergies of an orchestra such as Cleveland's.

As for the program, I enjoyed all of the pieces, but Brahm's Academic Festival Overture was my favorite from the program, desert before the main course, if you will -- light, easy on the ears, energetic and playful. The overture ends with full orchestra--including a rather large percussion section--belts with the program notes identify as a German student song Let us All Rejoice While We Are Still Young.

Mathis der Maler is the third Hindemith composition I've heard -- the other two being for smaller ensembles (the Clarinet Quintet [also here] and Sonate being the other two)... the story behind the opera, and symphony extracted from the opera, recounted in the program notes is intriguing and combined with the music piques interest in seeing and hearing the opera should the opportunity ever present itself. Beginning the third movement the sound rising from the strings struck me as a swarm of angry bees, and progressing, the movement lost n drama. Titled The Temptation of St. Anthony, this movement was based on one of Matthias's paintings in which the Saint is attached by "a host of monsters and fantastic beasts of all sorts." -- this attack is by no means understated in the music.

Finally, the Beethoven Piano Concerto, my mother's favorite and a close second for myself. Piano concertos don't often agree with me--often feeling that there's a lack of balance between orchestra and pianist. I think the introductory note for Beethoven's Emperor may have finally illuminated the Why: The piano, as we know it, is a relatively modern instrument with the earlier iterations having much more limited range and volume. By the time Beethoven was composing his 5th piano concerto he had been gifted a piano by its manufacturer as a PR move (some things never change, it seems).

Thus, in the piano concerto that we heard this evening there was no need for timidity on the part of either the orchestra or the piano and the two played together, and off of each other beautifully. The second movement had a particularly ethereal texture to it and couldn't help but to carry the listener--this listener, at least--off to a wonderful place.

And the orchestra didn't disappoint while showing off one of my wonderful places to my mother.


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