Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") in E-flat major, Op. 73 (Helene Grimaud, piano)
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major (Maureen McKay, soprano)
Fabio Luisi, conductor.

Ok, so Summer is over and it's time to return to Severance Hall for another season -- in many ways it's like the first day of a new school year, greeting old friends and helping new fans to find their way around. It's also a time to notice changes -- rumors of veteran House Manager Judith Diehl's impending retirement, and the addition of some rather unsightly security cameras flanking the stage, like pimples on an otherwise flawless face.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't as excited as I could have been heading into the hall this evening; I've gotten slightly accustomed to having a Saturday evening free, and my bank account has certainly appreciated having a few weeks free from ticket purchases. From the first notes, though, the orchestra under maestro Luisi reminded me why I attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts.

The first movement of the Beethoven concerto hooked me with tantalizing finger work on Ms. Grimaud's piano backed by equally tantalizing playing by the orchestra with phenomenal crispness clarity and balance. Though not evocative of a particular visual scene it was memorizing and at times almost operatic. The second movement (which lead virtually seamlessly into the third movement) was heartwarmingly tender -- to the point that a gentleman in an adjacent box bay have been on the verge of tears.

Following intermission the program concluded with Mahler's fourth symphony in four movements. Those four movements seemed to be almost wholly unrelated, making each movement it's own interesting little bundle. Like the Beethoven, this piece didn't evoke strongly imagery, but each movement evoked clear feelings -- from the first movement and its warm winter feeling suggesting sleighs and carols, to the second movement's more cinematic, imaginary and fanciful air. The third movement was serene and tranquil, at a moment sounding as if the entire orchestra -- as an organism was breathing and gasping for air. The fourth movement was the only movement of the evening that left me less that captivated.


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