Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Lang Lang Plays Bartok

Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Lang Lang, piano)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic") in E-flat major (1888 version, edited by Benjamin Korstvedt)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Observant readers may notice that I've been awfully quiet lately, for the simple reason that my day job has kept be beyond occupied. In fact, I've spent the past several days in Chicago suburbs--sans time to explore--returning just after 4:30 this afternoon.

Arriving at Severance hall something seemed weird -- just a little off. At first I wrote it off to the long absence from the hall (it has been nearly a month, after all) but the feeling persisted throughout the concert and even when leaving--something just didn't feel settled.

Going into the program I was looking forward to the Bartok over the Bruckner. At Intermission I was hoping I was wrong. And I was wrong.

The three movements of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2 seemed flat, hollow, and distant. While it appealed to the ear, it was rather like watching a movie -- a 3D movie without the glasses -- rather than the emersive experience that is the reason I love hearing classical live. (Mr. Welser-Most seemed overly rigid and restrained, though he seemed to loosen up for the Bruckner) That said, the second and third movements were satisfactory with a string hymn over anguished timpani before turning a bit brighter. In the third movement things gained a bit more energy and became a bit brighter.

Following intermission the orchestra and Mr. Welser-Most returned to the stage and started the first movement of Bruckner's "Romantic" with a musical sunrise that gives way to a bit of frolicking. The orchestra built drama throughout the movement that reached climax before turning more meditative and insular. The second movement was more somber and meditative with the violin pizzicato seeming particularly like footsteps in some kind of sanctuary. The third movement, moved outdoors and seemed more rustic with a few punctuating surprises. Closing the piece, my immediate reaction to the first few lines of the fourth movement was a ship -- specifically an old wooden sailing ship -- on choppy water at night. That feeling turned to a more of a formal dance, then turned individually passionate before taking on an air of despair.


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