Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jane Glover conducts Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn

Bach: Sinfonia no. 2 in E-flat major, Wq183.2 (Imogen Cooper, piano)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
Vanhal: Sinfonia in G minor, Bg1
Haydn: Symphony No. 103 ("Drum Roll")
Jane Glover, conductor.

Tonight's program began with a little bit of baroque in the form of C.P.E. Bach's sinfonia No. 2, a quick little appetizer piece at just over 15 minutes and a sound that I can only really describe as woody and solid.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 came second on the program with pianist Imogen Cooper tickling the keyboard. I have a difficult time describing, much less relating to music that doesn't evoke strong imagery and the first movement falls into that category. The second movement however evoked images of an elegant romance -- an intimate affair culminating in a candle lit bedroom with rose pedals for instance. The third movement took a lighter and more frolicking-down-a-garden-path-on-a-spring-day-with-your-loved-one feeling.

The third piece was by a composer who's name was new to me -- and given the fact that this is the first time the Cleveland Orchestra has performed this particular piece  from the 1760s, I suspect I am not alone. Though swiftly moving, it was a bit on the tingy-sound (I'm tempted to say baroque-ish, but this piece came slightly after the end of the traditional baroque period. Worth special note was a sweet violin solo and violin/duet.

Closing out the program was Haydn's Symphony No. 103 a;so named the "Drum Roll" for a, well, drum roll that appears twice in the first movement. The first movement begins dark, brightens up with a nice energy, and then the dark introduction is restated, much like the passing of day from dark through sunrise, daylight, sunset, and night. The second movement was delicate but necessarily firm. My mind wandered through much of the third and fourth movement snapped back to the music at the beginning of the fourth movement when a horn appears to be soliciting a response from the strings that never comes -- until it is repeated.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Blomstedt: Conducts Dvorak and Tchaikovsky

Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor (op. 104) (Mark Kosower, cello)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") in B minor Op. 74
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor.

While exchanging greetings with an usher before tonights concert she observed, regarding the weather,  "with a day like today its hard not to be in a good mood". Indeed, however, with a concert like tonight's its impossible not to be in a good mood.

While, honestly, I've had a hard time getting truly excited about the past few concerts, I was utterly euphoric about Dvorak's Cello Concerto and Mr. Kossower's fine handling off the piece -- so much so that I had to physically restrain myself from applauding at the end of the first movement.

The first movement starts with the orchestra laying a bed that sounds not at all unlike an enchanted forest, while As the piece progresses, Mr. Kosower's cello takes on the feeling of an impassioned --very impassioned -- lover calling at his target, the orchestra's window. The second movement communicates more of a contemplation of a painful decision followed by a painfully lonely walk in no-longer enchanted woods. The third and final movement was a bit more of a folksy air of an approaching march followed by a triumphant ending -- and an immediate standing ovation.

Following intermission I found it hard to focus on Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") with the same level of intensity as the cello concerto, and had at best fleeting impressions -- the beginning was far more burnished and less romantic than the Dvorak -- the second movement was like a light spring day; the third was insistent and fairly happy, while the final movement was far more somber. I should also note that I have a tremendous sense of de ja vu -- I could swear that I've heard this piece in the very recent past, however, I do not have it noted.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Amici Quartet - Beethoven's Famous Last Quartets

Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135
[The Amici Quartet: Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for Takako Masame, violin; Miho Hashiume, violin; Lynn Ramsey, viola; Ralph Curry, cello]
At the Barrie Carriage House, Cleveland Heights. 

Cleveland Heights poet laureate Kathleen Cerveny opened this spring afternoon concert with readings of poetry from E.E. Cummings and Ohio poet Mary Oliver before turning the stage over to the "Amaci Quartet Minus One, Plus One" as cellist Ralph Curry introduced the ensemble -- with Cleveland Orchestra associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for injured-on-tour quartet member Takako Masame.

The program took a longer form than may normally be expected, starting with Beethoven's seven movement 41-minute String Quartet -- though  despite the longer-than-typical running time and twice as many movements as the typical piece, time seemed to fly, though the piece was generally somber, particularly in the earlier movements and the pained searching opening notes, though as the piece progressed the mood improved to an energetic, almost galloping passage that seemed a bit like trying to catch a wild animal. This was certainly a piece where I found myself just closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds of the impassioned playing of professional musicians.

It was particularly interesting to me as I don't believe I've heard Ms. Ramsey or Mr. Curry play in such an intimate setting before, and I always relish the opportunity to hear fine musicians, and particularly the members of The Cleveland Orchestra, in a more intimate setting.

Following intermission, the shorter but still substantial String Quartet No. 16 concluded the afternoon's performance. In his remarks before the piece, Mr. Curry indicated that despite being a stressful time in Beethoven's life -- including a major illness and serving as guardian for his incorrigible nephew -- this piece had a sunnier disposition generally. On whole, though, the piece struck me as only slightly brighter than the prior quartet, with much of that energy in the second movement (vivace). The third movement (Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo) though had a almost mass-like mourning hymn, and the fourth movement -- featuring a "question" and "answer" in the notations, and with increasing intensity of discourse between the violins and lower strings.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Yuja Wang Plays Rachmaninoff

Prokofiev: Classical Symphony, Op. 25 (Symphony No. 1)
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D-minor, Op. 30 (Yuja Wang, piano)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scherazade, Op. 35 (Symphonic Suite after The Thousand and One Nights) (William Preucil, solo violin)
Gincario Guerreo, conductor.

Based on how awful I found last week's program and considering the piano features prominently tonight as well, I had seriously considered saving the roughly $150 and skipping this week. I decided otherwise. By the time intermission had rolled around, there was not the slightest doubt as to if my decision.

The opening piece on the program, Prokofiev's Classical Symphony  set the tone for the evening: Swiftly moving without being rushed with a varied texture and interesting development. Mr. Guerrero's facial expressions -- when he rotated enough for them to be visible from Box 3 -- conveyed the excitement and intensity of a television chef brewing fine cuisine. Later in the program, I realized the style was much as I would expect if Julia Child were to conduct an orchestra.

Its difficult to quantify the 45 minutes of musical excitement that was Yuja Wang's performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto -- played as one continuous piece without pause between movements the piece flew by. I was just beginning to ponder the length of what I perceived as the first movement, when I found myself compelled to stand and join the packed house in offering applause.

The final piece on the program brought the exotic notion of the Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights) and once again Mr. Guerreo and the orchestra wove a compelling tapestry of musical imagery. Of particular note the delightful work of the violin (William Preucil), cello (Mark Kosower), and clarinet (Franklin Cohen) principals -- though each section was well represented.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K456 (Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor)
Mozart: Symphony No. 23 on D major K.181 (William Preucil, leader)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459 (Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor)

If there's one thing the nicer weather has me less than crazy about its the effect spring has on my allergies. And indeed, if my sinuses are any indication, it seems spring hath most certainly sprung. That and my general apathy for Ms. Uchida (its worth nothing that the lack of empty seats in the hall may indicate I may be alone in that apathy) didn't pit me in the best mental frame for tonight's concert.

In the end...or before the end... I didn't even make it to intermission -- finding myself completely unmoved. As Piano Concerto No. 18 droned on I found the rational version of myself promising the impatient version of myself that even if Symphony No. 23 were to be intolerable, with a running time of 10 minutes and no Uchida to speak of I could use Intermission as an escape.

However, Concerto No. 18 continued for what felt like hours (in reality, only about 35 minutes) and felt completely distant and unengaging. Though I've felt apathetic about other pieces, I can't recall having this much flat-out hatred of a Cleveland Orchestra performance. Finding myself unwilling to offer even tepid applause, and with a growing headache [I'm more inclined to blame this on flickering house lights than the music -- and to be fair, house management was looking into that issue and offered reseating--but I had made my decision] I left quickly and quietly before the second piece had started.