Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Second

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (Gil Shaham, violin)
Falla: Music from The Three-Cornered Hat
Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor.

I carpooled to this evening's concert with a friend and her friend from out of town. While we were not seated together, it was interesting to discuss the performance immediately after. It was also interesting as my friend's second visit to Blossom and her friend's first visit--and first hearing of the Cleveland Orchestra live. It was a dark (well, eventually) and stormy night, but the Orchestra delivered nonetheless.

From our small group, and from the near-unanimous standing ovation that the piece received, Barber's Violin Concerto was the clear winner from tonight's program -- in a streak of wonderful violin concerti at Blossom, I have to change my tune, if you will, and retract my previous pronouncement of dislike for all concertos.

Tonight's performance with Gil Shaham as the soloist was amazing. Although some of the quieter passages seemed to get lost amongst the thriving cricket population playing their own beautiful song (with the occasional outburst from a frog), the flair and technical mastery of the piece, including the daunting third moment "Presto in moto petpetuo" -- "fast in perpetual motion" -- was matched only by Mr. Shaham's clear pleasure in playing. Even during the passages where the violin was silent there was no doubt that he enjoyed sharing the stage with the Orchestra and that couldn't help but be reflected in the playing which saw a healthy portion of the pavilion spring to their feet in applause, the remainder not far behind.

The adagio opening to Beethoven's Second didn't move me, but when the tempo increased the I felt at ease with the alegro con brio main section and resisted the urge to provide inter-movement applause (amusingly, during the brief pause between the first and second movements, two low rolls of thunder were heard from the heavens). The second movement was most likely my favorite from that piece and the occasionally bumpy lyricism seemed a perfect fit for the serenity of Blossom on a rainy summer day.

Thus we are left with the dance suites from the Three-Cornered Hat. Going in to this evening's performance I would have put my money on this coming out as my favorite: Dance suites have rarely done me wrong. Despite many enjoyable passages, I found myself unable to connect with any of the individual dances or to truly appreciate the whole, as such it was actually my least favorite by a significant margin.

But the violin concerto? Wow.


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