Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Ninth

Oliverio: Dynasty (Double Timpani Concerto), Paul Yancich and Mark Yancich, timpani.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 ("Choral") in D minor, Op. 125, Janice Chandler-Eteme, soprano; Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano; Sean Panikkar, tenor; Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone; The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Roberet Porco, director.
Jahja Ling, conductor.

I have to admit I don't have anything to wear was a thought running through my mind as I prepared for tonight's post-labor day season closing concert: White and khaki being more or less out but black seeming overly formal. Based on tonight's rainy weather I wasn't sure what to expect for attendance. The pavilion was packed -- sold out, actually -- and more than a few brave souls could be seen packing the lower section of the lawn.

The Cleveland Orchestra certainly ended their Blossom season on a high note, a concert mixing the new and unknown with a relatively old staple.Though the program consisted only of two pieces it was full of different emotions and textures.

The concert opened with the new: James Oliverio's Dynasty a concerto for double timpani commissioned by and played by Paul Yancich, of The Cleveland Orchestra, and his brother Mark Yancich, of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The timpani is usually a single instrument relegated to a place at the back of the orchestra, and perhaps best known for eponymous rolls. It's unusual to see the timpani at the front of the orchestra, even more so for there to be two of them, but that's what tonight's concert offered, and part of--but not the only reason--this was my favorite from the concert.

The first movement had cinematic feelings and the energy and general feeling that its name (Impetuous) would imply; though I initially felt timpani were overpowering the orchestra, a good balance was quickly settled into. The second movement, Naivete, started with and hinted at an exotic sound throughout and I couldn't help but to envision a snake charmer (aptly played by an alto flute) and the snake responding to the calls, before turning beautiful and colorful with the help of the two harps flanking the timpanis. The third movement Interlude provided an opportunity for the two timpanists to explore the oft-overlooked range of their instruments without the distraction of orchestral accompaniment.

The fourth movement, Ancestors Within was the one part of the concerto I didn't really get into; it felt like a minor tension was built but never released. Finally Destiny carried the cinematic feelings of the first movement with a wonderfully melodic and dramatic movement, feeling, at times, reminiscent of a newscast theme. Improvised solo cadenzas from each Mr. Yancich felt distinctly like the drum solo you may expect from a rock concert, before the orchestra returned for an explosive ending with an exclamation point.

By contrast the Beethoven felt more staid and burnished as a whole; I never really got into the first or third movements, while I really enjoyed the second (molto vivace) movement with its iconic sound [if you have a Windows XP computer you can find a recording of this movement in the "Sample Music" folder under My Documents -> My Music, though it offered nowhere near the power or enticement of a live orchestra, let alone The Cleveland Orchestra], meanwhile Mr. Paul Yancich, after his workout at the front of that stage earlier, returns with his instrument, to the back of the stage for this piece. Finally, the symphony, the concert, and this Blossom season, was drawn to a close with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and four soloists singing the Ode to Joy in the fourth movement (Presto--allegro assi--presto). While I didn't find the soloists to be particularly notable, both the Orchestra and Chorus sounded fantastic: I think it may mark my favorite appearance of the Chorus to date.


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