Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

Hindemith: Kammermusik No.1 (For Small Orchestra)
Strauss: Oboe Concerto in D major, Frank Rosenwein, oboe
Berelioz:Symphony Fantastique: Episode in the Life of an Artist, Op. 14
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

I have to confess that every once in a while I start to question my dedication to The Cleveland Orchestra -- aside from cost (it is an expensive endeavor) the skeptic in me occasionally wonders about the true "average Joe" impression of the Orchestra beyond Cleveland's borders.

Concerts like tonight assuage those doubts. First: The couple in the front of my box drove in from Ann Arbor to hear the concert -- something they do almost monthly, bypassing several other orchestras along the way -- to hear the Cleveland Orchestra in its Severance Hall home. (Equally impressive, they usually make the 3+ hour drive down and back the same day). More importantly it was simply a great sounding concert.

Hinedmith's Kammermusik No. 1 packed four movements into about 15 minutes of playing time starting frenzied (very fast and wild) first movement, to the second movement which alternated between having a somewhat festive, almost carnival like feeling to something dark and melancholy in the second movement with the darkness continuing into the third movement where it seemed as if the flute was alone on a dark deserted street -- or perhaps in a graveyard, only interrupted occasionally by rustling signified by a chime. The energy (and rest of the Orchestra) returned in the Finale: 1921.

The program note revealed an interesting history -- revolving around World War II -- to Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto, with the solo part performed by The Cleveland Orchestra's own Principal Oboe, Frank Rosenwein. I'm always more satisfied when the solo part is performed by an Orchestra member and tonight was no exception -- it feels as if the soloist enjoys a closer connection to the ensemble. The three movements, spanning just under a half hour of playing time, are played without pause. Throughout that time, Mr. Rosenwein's playing remained clear, even, and passionate. During the moments when he wasn't playing, he was visibly buoyed by the performance of his colleagues. When he was playing, his instrument comfortably laid on a bed laid out by the strings, particularly cellos, and drama ebbed and swelled throughout the piece, without overwhelming the tender moments.

Following intermission, the final piece on the program was Hector Berlioz's five movement Symphonie Fantastique, subtitled Episode in the Life of an Artist. If you ignore the subtitle -- as I initially did -- you may be expecting something a but on the lighter and broader side -- as I was. However you would do well to not ignore the subtitle. The first movement pulls the listener through the protagonist's passion, anguish, and despair in the field of far-off-love. The second movement (A Ball) seems to place the strings on the dance floor with the violins embraced by the cellos and violas in a musical dance. The third movement In the Country two Sheppard's are exchanging pipe calls, which I initially found delightful, however the parts of this movement that encompassed the full orchestra felt overdone. The fourth movement, had a distinct feel of pomp and circumstance.

When the end of the fifth movement came, the gentleman seated next to me -- who required assistance into and out of the box -- sprung to his feet and passionately exalted "Bravo!". The rest of the audience was not far behind. Though the box level was somewhat empty, the Orchestra floor appeared to be fairly full -- including (as pointed out by a gentleman in the next box over) a large contingent of students.


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