Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CIM@Severance: Torke, Britten and Mussorgsky

Torke: Bright Blue Music
Britten: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 15 (Natalie Lin, violin)
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. Ravel)
The Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra
Carl Topilow, Conductor

The Cleveland Orchestra returns to its Severance Hall home in a little over a week, but music returned to the hall in the form of CIM Orchestra concert tonight. Like the vast majority of CIM's other concerts and recitals, tonight's was free. Before the concert I picked Rachel up and we dined at The Jolly Scholar in the Severance-adjacent Thwing Center. The service is nothing special but the prices are reasonable and it's Severance-convenient.

The concert opened with Michael Torke's Bright Blue Music from 1985. An amazingly expressive piece that evoked all of the feelings associated with Bright and none of those associated  with Blue, it was without a doubt may favorite from the evening, and in its persistently happy and light mood, instantly earned a spot among my favorite pieces of orchestral music. This is certainly one that I hope finds its way to InstantEncore; if it does not I shall have to find a comparable version on iTunes.

Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto was in the middle of tonight's program sequentially but felt out of place and just a bit beyond depressing and quite solitary. While Ms. Lin played with impressive clarity and I have no faults, neither Rachel nor I particularly liked the piece -- and speaking for myself, it ended not a moment too soon. While the overall tone was one of depression, there were interesting dialogues between the soloist and the harp and a rather animated, nearly explosive segment near the midpoint buoyed my hopes for a less pessimistic ending, however that was not to come.

Last on the program but most familiar, Ravel's orchestration of Mussgorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Probably the classical piece that I've heard most often in live performance, I love the thematic device -- the viewer strolling through a set of pictures at an exhibition -- and the evolution that the Promenade undergoes as the viewer--and the promenade are shaped by the experience of viewing the preceding pieces. It helps that the Promenade's bold opening statement is extremely catchy and very hummable. Each ensemble brings their own impressions to a work, and this is particularly clear with Pictures; likewise, each time I hear the pictures I notice different features.

Tonight I noticed echos between the sections in the Promenade that I don't believe I've caught before. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells) was particularly loveley, the energy of a hectic marketplace was crystal clear with The Marketplace at Limoges, and the dead languages were more aggressive than I'm used to (but I rather liked it) with Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua.

At last week's concert -- the first of the CIM year -- I had some rather strong concerns about balance, tonight I think the were largely resolved. That is not to say, of course, that there is not room for improvement -- though that room is preciously small. In Pictures, the brass is certainly not supposed to be pushed into the background, but tonight, they were pushing it a bit too far forward (blaring, to borrow Rachel's word)

All in all though, a very enjoyable concert and a nice way to spend the evening.


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