Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Emanuel Ax Plays Mozart and Chopin

Von Suppe: Overture to Poet and Peasant
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K482 (Emaunel Ax, piano)
Nicolai: Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor
Chopin: Andante splanto et Grand Polonaise brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22 (for piano and orchestra) (Emanuel Ax, piano)
Brahms: Three Hungarian Dances (Nos. 1, 5, and 6)
Encore: Dvorak _______ Dances
Jahja Ling, conductor.

To call tonight sweltering would seem to be a bit of an understatement: I think it may be the warmest and most generally uncomfortable climate-wise I can remember. The good news is that for the 2012 season, bottled water is allowed in the pavilion regardless of temperature. Though water is a steal* at $5 for a small bottle, it would have been ugly without it.

The concert began with Franz von Suppe's Overture to the Poet and the Peasant with the first part featuring a lush cello solo mentally taking me to a relaxing verdant green field with clear blue skies; the second part contrasted with the full orchestra giving a stormy feel -- much, as it may seem, for the rain interrupting the clear skies for the 4th of July concerts -- before returning to a calm feeling with both.

Somewhat rare, tonight's guest artist was actually featured in two pieces. Emanuel Ax first joined the orchestra for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22. For the first two movements there were individual moments that sparkled, but neither of the movements as a whole did anything for me. The off-beet cheeping of the sparrows in the pavilion certainly didn't help. The third movement, though, seemed to enjoy a much stronger bond between piano and orchestra and was generally more nimble.

Following intermission, Otto Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, my favorite from the evening, began with fantastic drama in the low strings, dispersing amongst the full orchestra with hints of a waltz sprinkled throughout.

Emanuel Ax rejoined the orchestra for Chopin's Andanted splanto et Grand Polonaise brillante where the piano and pianist clearly sparkled. The orchestra's role in the work was almost entirely confined to providing punctuation and spotligthing for Mr. Ax's statements.

Last on the published program were three of Brahms's Hungarian Dances. All three of the pieces had a distinct sound that I associate as being Eastern European, though my brain was occupied through much of the piece trying to put my finger on what, precisely, I thought of as Eastern European, I think it was generally a duller, deeper--slightly depressed--sound. Dance Number 5 was particularly interesting in that there were moments where it seemed almost like the orchestra was being played in slow motion, and towards the end a bit of brightness came out in something that could almost be described as a jig. Dance number 6 was the least affected with the "Eastern European" sound but was the most festive and brightest of the three, and to my ear, my favorite selection.

Mr. Ling announced the encore from the podium, but without benefit of a microphone, the middle part of the title was lost to the crowd: I can only assume that it was one of  Dvorak's Slavonic Dances. In any event, it was quite enjoyable -- lively and colorful, and a great way to end a warm evening.

*- That would be the orchestra's concessionaire, Aramark, stealing from the patrons lest there be any confusion.

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