Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms Second Piano Concerto

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83 (Yefim Bronfman, piano)
Shepherd: Wanderlust
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

From the opening notes of Brahms Piano concerto -- introduced by a solo horn -- I was in awe. Throughout the four movements, I can recall few pieces that have kept me so spellbound. Without reservation I can say that this is the most compelling work I've heard Mr. Welser-Most conduct and one of the finest in recent memory. While soloists are not always up to the challenge posed by The Cleveland Orchestra (one need look no further than last week for an example), Pianist Yefim Bronfman with the orchestra was a match made in musical heaven.

The program noted that the running time of the piece was approximately 50 minutes, however as the notes were flowing forth from the Severance Hall stage time seemed to stand still; I was afraid to blink for fear of disturbing the bond between orchestra, conductor, soloist and audience. When I did close my eyes, the noes seemed to be levitating. The first movement was by far my favorite from the piece, the evening, and recent memory. Throughout, Mr. Bronfman's hands seemed to dance over and massage the keys of his instrument, never being so coarse as to strike them. The third movement, with an extensive cello concerto (the piano lid blocked my view, but I believe it was played by Mark Kosower was also a heavenly contribution to the evening. Both the second and fourth movements were no less captivating. All of the players -- the Orchestra, Mr. Bronfman, and Mr. Welser-Most -- were clearly enjoying themselves and it came through in the music.

The concert could have ended there and it would have been money well spend (and Miamians can look forward to enjoying this piece during the orchestra's upcoming residency in Miami)

Unfortunately coming on the heels of that musical ecstasy was composer Sean Shepherd's Wanderlust, commissioned by the Orchestra in 2009. Though I had high hopes -- wanderlust is an emotion and desire I can relate strongly to -- the piece was more than a little too angular for me. While trying to find a coherent expression of my dislike and reading ahead in the program I found my answer in what a newspaper had attached to one of Shostakovitch's operas: "a confused stream of sounds".

Where the Brahms was advertised as 50 minutes and felt like 10, this was advertised as 10 minutes and felt like 45, and while I couldn't get a read on Mr. Welser-Most's engagement, the musicians clearly were not engaged with this piece; and I don't think one can blame them.

The program concluded with Shostakovitch's Symphony 6 in B minor which was somewhere between the two extremes of the first two pieces: I didn't detest it but I didn't have the "love at first note" reaction to it that I did with the Brahms. The long -- and introspective -- slow movement was difficult to reconcile on the heels of Wanderlust, though the second movement (Allegro) started to pulled me back in with an interesting rhythm and the third movement put a climatic exclamation point on the evening's performance


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