Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Welser-Most Conducts Bartok

Hosokawa: Woven Dreams (World Preimere)
Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano)
Takemitsu: Garden Rain (For Brass Ensemble)
Bartok: Music For Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

I try to avoid reading reviews of anything I see or hear before I've seen or heard it, yet, as several of my guests for Cleveland Orchestra Cellist Ms. Tanya Ell's amazing performance in my home last night had also attended the Thursday performance of the same program some discussion naturally occurred. (As an aside, I slept very well today)

As one of those guests observed the two Bartok pieces were actually the oldest on the program.

The common thread, aside from being new that seemed to tie the pieces together, was a sense of quiet.

First though, to get the undesirable out of the way, the third work on the program: Takemitsu's Garden Rain. For as many "new" composers as there are I wish I could understand why Mr. Takemitsu's works are programmed with such frequency. This is now the fifth encounter I've had with this composer's work and the nicest thing I can think to say is that I'm bored by it. Worth noting was impressive control at relatively low volume from the brass ensemble, and the odd relationship of conductor to ensemble: With Mr. Welser-Most at the stage apron and the brass at their usual location upstage, he seemed to be conducting across a desert of empty chairs; it looked as if three-quarters of the orchestra had simply not shown up.*

Opening the program, Woven Dreams, a world premiere by composer Toshio Hosokawa had such a wonderfully quiet and subtle introduction that Mr. Welser-Most had been on the podium for several seconds before I realized that the music had started. Slightly ethereal, it seemed to me as if it would be a strong contender for a science fiction soundtrack. After the work had concluded I read the program note wherein Mr. Hosokawa describes channeling feeling of being birthed from the womb and the fear of the unknown: Listened to from that perspective, the work lacks no clarity, and it's an emotion that stands crystal clear.

Unfortunately at this performance Woven Dreams was accompanied by an incessant cough from somewhere in the audience and the early punctuation of a ringing cell phone (The expression on the face and I give up hands-in-the-air gesture of the Cleveland Orchestra executive in the box to my left spoke for much of the audience)

In Bartok's Piano Concerto the first movement neither grabbed my ear nor seemed very Allegro-esque. By contrast the second movement was lovely, particularly the adagio with which the movement opens -- but I didn't find it terribly compelling.

Closing out the program, Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta made the evening worthwhile. Again beginning with a quiet and tranquil tone (not good for someone a bit tired), the fourth movement (Allegro molto) seemed to be the ideal release for all of the energy pent up by the orchestra over the preceding pieces, like a bulldog that has finally broken free of its chains. Since this is the Cleveland Orchestra and not a bulldog, of course, there was no lack of precision accompanied by the vigorous release.

*- For an orchestra going for a sight gag, programming this as the first work on a concert, particularly on a night with severe weather conditions may generate some conversation.

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