Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony

Rachmaninoff: The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29
Rota: Trombone Concerto (Massimo La Rosa, trombone)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6 in E-flat minor, Op. 111
Gianandrea Noseda, Conductor

After a run of full houses, it was a little surprising how noticeably sparse attendance at this, the first concert back from the Florida residency, was despite an admirable job of dressing the house*. I was also surprised at the rather lukewarm reception the program received; while it won't go down in the annals with particular note, there was nothing not to like.

Rachmaninoff's The Isle of  the Dead was a haunting march toward a darkness with a texture that captivated me while simultaneously dreading and wondering what that march would arrive at. About half way through the piece there was a strange harmonic that sounded like someone was engaged in a heated -- if muffled -- monologue outside the hall; the darkness parts briefly with hints of a blue sky.

The composer of the second piece on the program, Nino Rota, doesn't have the name recognition as some of his work -- the score for The Godfather II and the 1968 Romeo and Juliet love theme, and the trombone isn't the most popular concerto choice. Seeing thos piece on the program, and tending to think of the trombone as a rather harsh and blaring instrument (think the "adult" voices in Charlie Brown Christmas), I was a bit apprehensive. Putting that apprehension to rest, Massimo La Rosa's deft navigation of the piece finely illustrated how versatile the trombone can be. The second movement struck me as a tender waltz with the trombone a lover nuzzled in their partner's neck while taking the lead. For a total contrast the third movement, was light and airy, bouncy and toe tapping, like the freedom of a spring weekend day.

Closing out the program, Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6 didn't evoke particularly vivid imagery but was still delightful to listen to and didn't feel nearly as long as the 45-minute run time listed in the program. The first movement seemed a subdued, almost barren, mood with the hints of a march.

While the first movement sounded a bit like a march, the second movement struck as if a highly nationalistic tune was buried under a dirge, leading to crying passion, and undoubtedly my favorite passages from the piece wherein a delicate music box lullaby emerges from the celesta and wafts over the orchestra.

The third movement would be an apt soundtrack for a wagon charging down a dusty country road, energetic and enthusiastic -- Richard Rodda's program notes use the word "bumptious" to refer to it, and that word is as apt as it is unique, before turning more "austere" and somber.

* (In the outside New York box office definition)


  1. ...a strange harmonic that sounded like someone was engaged in a heated -- if muffled -- monologue outside the hall...

    That was the conductor humming, off-key, with the music.

  2. LOL! That's almost exactly what it sounded like!