Friday, September 30, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony

Stravinsky: Concerto in D (for string orchestra)
Gabrieli: Missa Brevis (transcribed for brass)
Stravinsky: Mass (for chorus and orchestra) (With the Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chours)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
One encore, unannounced
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

I started the day at 3:00 AM Pacific Time in a Sacramento, California suburb to make my way back East. Under most other circumstances I would have at least waited until mid-morning, but today was special: Opening night for The Cleveland Orchestra's 11-12 Severance Hall season, and a 6 AM flight was the only way to be sure I'd be back in time to attend.

I noticed a headache around Denver, and the chicken sandwich lunch in First didn't do anything to help...and my Advil stash in my bag had been previously depleted. I got home with enough time to fit in a 90 minute nap and plenty of Advil before heading to the hall.

At the conclusion of the published program, Mr. Welser-Most announced from the podium--I believe the first time I've heard him speak live--"It's good to be back and it's good to have you back"--and that as certainly the feeling. Blossom is great, but there's something magical about being back in the hall. The Cleveland Orchestra is tuned for Severance Hall and Severance Hall is tuned for the Cleveland Orchestra.

The first half of the program was interesting in structure: The strings are my favorite family of instrument and Stravinsky's Concerto left the stage bare save for the strings. The sound was a bit dull around the edges but the give and play, tug and pull between individual instruments and the showcase of each section in the pieces expressive conclusion made it enjoyable.

The movements from Gabrieli's Missa Brevis and Stravinsky's Mass were alternated, that is, the Kyrie from Missa Brevis was played followed by the Kyrie from the Mass, and so forth continuing through the flow of the Latin mass. These two pieces proved that one shouldn't judge a score by it's cover: I hadn't expected to enjoy a brass transcription (Gabrieli), and I was looking forward to for chorus and orchestra (Stravinsky). I was wrong. The four-piece brass arrangement of Missa Brevis was delightful and well balanced, pulling me in note my note. On the other hand, the Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus sounded phenomenal, but I don't think the orchestration added anything positive, and that aspect didn't agree with my ears.

Before hearing the pieces I thought it was a bit odd that the two compositions would be intertwined, but in hearing it played it provided a interesting and immediate comparison between the two pieces, and also kept either piece from becoming boring, as I suspect either piece played alone may have a tendency to do.

Closing out the program, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony was definitely the highlight of the evening. It was great to just close my eyes and let the notes carry me away. The piece felt readily familiar, and in checking my notes, its because I last heard it performed only 5 months ago. Once again, I loved the extended pizzicato in the third movement, and Mr. Rosenwein's solo oboe was a highlight of the performance.

The unannounced encore was perfectly enjoyable but a dangerously mellow for this road-wearied traveler who had yet to drive home.


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