Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms Piano Concerto

Saariaho: Lanterna Magica (United States Premiere)
Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minior, Op. 15 (Yefin Bronfman, piano)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

A couple weeks ago -- the last Cleveland Orchestra concert I attended, and bookending the Orchestra's annual Miami residency -- I was awed by the program generally but unmoved, to the point of virtually detesting the "new" piece on the program. While the opposite wasn't quite true with tonight's program the boat was certainly listing in that direction.

Tonight's "new" piece and opening the program was Kaija Saariaho's Lanterna Magica, which also was my favorite from the evening. Though the title is a reference to Ingrmar Berman's autobiography and in turn to the Magic Lantern that introduced the first moving images, from the opening notes evoked the feeling of wandering through a mysterious wood carrying a handheld lantern with a bit of mystery. As the piece progressed the feelings evoked the feelings of excitement and wonderment that I can't help to imagine accompanied the first appearances of the lantern. The surges of energy as imaginary rotation of the mirror increased in speed and individual images and sounds merged into a single moving whole; likewise, as the music slows and Mr. Pruecil's violin was left standing delicately alone as the imaginary mirror slowed. That seemed like it would have been a natural ending however the piece continued a bit longer.

Next on the program, Mozart's Symphony No. 39 didn't really make a connection on an emotional level; that is listening to the piece I felt no close connection to the music. That could be because my focus and tentative connection with the first movement was interrupted by a rather musical cellphone ring tone from behind and to my left. The second movement, though struck me with a series of statements that seemed to be tentative only to be restated with full confidence, like a public speaker nervously rehearsing for a speech. The transition from the third to fourth movement was nearly seamless with fun bursts of orchestral color and energy.

The low-level buzz was that pianist Yefim Bronfman was nervous before tonight's concert; with the wonderful memory of the last concert still fresh I couldn't fathom what there would be to be nervous about. Unfortunately as intermission ended I was not as moved by Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1. The close coupling between orchestra and pianist that I felt then seemed to be missing tonight. Early in the first movement there was a interesting visual while Mr. Bronfman was playing and Mr. Welser-Most was conducting a virtually (if not totally) silent orchestra.

The program notes for mentioned that Brahms was a student of Robert Schumann and composed the piece shortly after a suicide attempt (followed by institutionalization in an asylum) by his teacher; with that in mind the piano at times seemed to be the outsider at odds with the orchestra, or rather society at large. But regardless, I didn't find the result captivating or compelling. Based on the immediate and virtually unanimous standing ovation, however, it seems I may have been the outsider tonight.


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