Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Porgy and Bess

Williams: Liberty Fanfare
Williams: Music from Lincoln
Navarro: II Concerto for clarinet and orchestra (Franklin Cohen, clarinet)
Hogan: Three Spirituals (Blossom Festival Chorus with Laquita Mitchell, soprano and Eric Greene, baritone)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess (highlights from the opera) Arr. Bennett (Blossom Festival Chorus, Laquita Mitchell, soprano; Roderick Dixon, tenor; Eric Greene, baritone)
Encore: Ward: America the Beautiful
James Feddeck, conductor.

Arriving early for tonights concert I meandered into the pavilion after enjoying a few moments respite in the cool breeze of shady Kulas Plaza. Finding my seat and settling in, the sounds of a harpist warming up rolled out over the pavilion much like the breeze in the plaza momenta earlier. Joined for a brief time with a xylophone, then a marimbist and bassists it was a great relaxation for a summer evening.

The concert did not disappoint -- without a doubt my favorite thus far in the Blossom season. I'm a fan of John Williams's works -- one of my three gateways to classical music, but so frequently concerts of his works are the same rote selections. Tonight opened with two uncommon Williams works. The first, Liberty Fanfare was amazing with sweeping strings giving the image of tall ships cutting across the ocean, or a the opening of an evening newscast, though with a softer edge than The Mission -- Mr. Williams's theme for the NBC Nightly News.

The second Williams selection was a bit more recent -- three selections of music from the film Lincoln. The first, The People's House was somber and dark with heavy winds; the last, With Malice Toward None, was longing with a beautiful solo cello and restless strings. The middle selection, Getting out The Vote was my favorite from the work with a country fiddle and a light fun air.

Rounding out the first half of the program, and my favorite work from the evening -- and one of the most enjoyable in months -- was II Concerto for clarinet and orchestra with Franklin Cohen playing the solo part. Starting with a fairly unsuspecting repetitive three note "drip" from the orchestra, it swelled into an enchanted lagoon with a Spanish flair (with much of the rear of the orchestra clapping), before turning dramatic as if  approaching a deadly waterfall. After a very long pause (long enough that despite Mr. Feddeck's outstretched arms a fairly enthusiastic applause emerged) the piece continued with a much brighter mood, though with a more "real" feeling, as if we had emerged from the musical fantasy into the real world.

I was not as crazy for the second half as I was the first, but it was still above average. With Three Choruses arranged for unaccompanied chorus by Moses Hogan, the show was as visual as it was audible. While the pieces didn't move me, watching a very animated Mr. Feddick gesticulate across the expanse of empty orchestra chairs and music stands to the unaccompanied chorus was a sight to behold, almost as if he were a preacher physically reaching into each singer's soul to extract the notes.

Twelve selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess closed out the published program, and again I wasn't crazy about the work as a whole -- and soprano Laquita Mitchell's vibrato seemed overdone -- the seventh selection with Eric Green and the chorus's Oh, I got Plenty o' Nuttin' was among my favorites, and the eighth Bess, You Is My Woman Now where Laquita Mitchell and Eric Green played off of each other and gave a touching romantic feeling. The best balance between Orchestra, Chorus, and soloist came from Rodrick Dixon, in It Ain't Necessarily So, where Mr. Dixon also hit a seemingly impossible -- and impossibly loud note.

The program concluded with an unannounced encore of Ward's God Bless America, which was simply beautiful.


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