Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Mahler's First Symphony

Nicolai: Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor
Nielsen: Clarinet Concerto, Op. 57 (Franklin Cohen, Clarinet)
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Pinchas Steinberg, conductor.

Yes. I did return to Severance Hall this evening for another Cleveland Orchestra concert. Yes. It was well worth it.

I have to admit that I wasn't feeling that great today -- and the bleak Cleveland weather wasn't helping. As I was preparing to call it an early night, an anonymous benefactor called to offer their extra ticket for tonight's concert; you may recall that my only regret from last night's concert was not hearing Franklin Cohen's solo in Neilsen's Clarinet Concerto. A quick hop in the shower later and I found myself at Severance Hall. At the end of tonight's concert -- during the almost instantaneous and unanimous standing ovation -- the significantly older gentleman standing next to me leaned over and remarked "He looks like he's exhausted" "I'm exhausted and I wasn't even doing anything," was my response. "Mahler will do that to you -- I was getting chills!" was his apt declaration. I was getting chills. I was feeling euphoric. During the piece I was involuntarily smiling; I don't smile (yeah, it's a character flaw). I had just heard this orchestra play this work barely 24 hours ago and I was still completely blown away. Similar conversation could be heard in the energetic buzz of patrons leaving the hall--about the entire program.

I stand by everything I said last night but will add that I hadn't noticed Mr. Steinberg was conducting this amazing masterpiece from memory; and the wonderfully triumphant theme that builds to the end of the fourth movement is almost impossible to resist. (It's also worth noting that the piece was that much more coherent without the inter-movement applause that permeated the Friday performance)

And sandwiched between the two pieces from last night's program was Neilsen's Clarinet Concerto, with Franklin Cohen's amazingly beautiful solo. Since I first heard Mr. Cohen play in a chamber music concert for Heights Arts in November of last year, I've been a huge fan. He plays with such transparent joy and passion that it's impossible not to enjoy listening. I've heard him play in several other chamber music or small ensemble pieces but tonight's performance was the first I've heard him solo with a full orchestra. He did not disappoint. Mr. Cohen played with a beautiful sound that cut through the hall and resonated directly with the soul. Playing against and at times with the orchestra the energy was great and the breath control was amazing. Particularly amazing were some of the incredibly long solo runs -- playing continuously while the orchestra stood mute the notes could be clearly heard in every corner of the hall without the slightest hint of running out of air. The performance left me breathless--gasping for air.

If you missed this weekend's concerts, you missed an incredible program.


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