Apollo’s Fire opens season in brilliant Venetian program

Apollo’s Fire
Jeannette Sorrell, conductor
Apollo’s Singers
Dark Horse Consort

Trinity Cathedral
Cleveland, OH
October 18, 2019

Gabrieli: Canzon in echo à 12, for 3 choirs, Ch. 192
Monteverdi: Cantate Domino à 6, from Motets, Book I
Gabrieli: In Ecclesiis à 14, for 3 choirs, Ch. 78, from Sacrae symphoniae II
Rosenmüller: Sonata No. 12 in D minor
Praetorius: Ach, mein Herre, from Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica
Monteverdi: Chiome d’oro, bel tesoro, from Madrigals, Book 7
Monteverdi: Zefiro torna e di soave accenti, from Madrigals, Book 9
Marini: Sonata in Ecco con tre violini, Op. 8 No. 44
Monteverdi: Duo Seraphim, from Vespers of 1610
Schütz: Jauchzet dem Herren, SWV 100, from Psalmen Davids
Praetorius: Meine Seel Erhebt den Herren, from Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica
Riccio: Canzon a doi soprani in Echo proposta, from Il secondo libro delle Divine Lodi
Gabrieli: Canzon in Echo duodecimi toni, Ch. 180, from Sacrae symphoniae
Monteverdi: Nisi Dominus, Suscepit Israel, and Sicut erat in principiov, from Vespers of 1610

Venice in the Renaissance and Baroque bore witness to an extraordinary flourishing of musical life, the focal point of which was the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica. That venue virtually inspired a whole repertoire of music, tailored to the basilica’s unique acoustics wherein musicians were often dispersed throughout to yield a mystical echo effect. Appropriately styled as “Echoes of Venice”, Apollo’s Fire sought to recreate this body of work in a program curated by musicologist Marica Tacconi, who was on hand for an informative pre-concert lecture. A generous helping of composers who served as the basilica’s maestro di cappella formed the backbone of the program, loosely organized by theme, and was fleshed out with works from a handful of Germans who took clear inspiration from their Venetian counterparts – a testament to the far-reaching influence of this aesthetic.

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Jeanette Sorrell and Apollo’s Fire in “Echoes of Venice”, photos credit Apollo’s Fire

For the weekend’s performances, AF was buttressed by the Boston-based period ensemble Dark Horse Concert, adding to the forces cornetti, sackbuts, and additional strings. The opening selection from the younger Gabrieli was lively and conversant, even if the intonation left something to be desired, reverberating throughout the Trinity Cathedral. Monteverdi’s Cantate Domino à 6 was crisply articulated, and introduced the resonant choir. Another selection from Gabrieli followed, stemming from the extensive Sacrae symphoniae (I was reminded of a Cleveland Orchestra program that touched this repertoire a couple seasons ago). Divided into three “choirs”, namely the instrumentalists and two groups of singers, the antiphonal layering achieved a striking effect.

Johann Rosenmüller was the first voice from the north heard on the program in his Sonata No. 12 in D minor. An ensemble of strings grounded by two theorbos gave genuine feeling to the three brief movements that comprised this doleful lament. Praetorius’ Ach, mein Herre could reasonably be mistook for a Venetian work, save for the language. Amanda Powell was the standout in a trio of sopranos that also included Rebecca Myers and Madeline Apple Healey, handling the intricate writing with aplomb. A pair of Monteverdi madrigals rounded out the first half. Chiome d’oro, bel tesoro was marked the rhythmic snap of the strings countered by the angelic blending of the two sopranos, Powell and colleague Raha Mirzadegan. Zefiro torna e di soave accenti charmed in its dance-inflected rhythms, with conductor Jeanette Sorrell leading from the tambourine.

Marini’s Sonata in Ecco con tre violini made for a striking opening to the second half. Beginning as a fairly standard sonata for a solo violin, the soloist was in due course joined by two further violinists stationed elsewhere around the cathedral. The space itself was thus used musically in this mesmerizing echo effect. Monteverdi’s Duo Seraphim, a gem from the Vespers, called upon three tenors – Jacob Perry, Nathan Hodgson, and Nathan Dougherty. Starting as a quite gorgeous duet, midway through the third joined in evocation of the trinity. Heinrich Schütz has justly been dubbed the “Gabrieli of the north”; choirs were positioned in both the front and back to envelop the audience in the euphony of his psalm setting Jauchzet dem Herren. Praetorius was revisited in Meine Seel Erhebt den Herren, bringing forth the same soprano trio as before, a magnificat fittingly magnificent, and the evening closed in the radiance of four further selection from Monteverdi’s Vespers.

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Tenors Jacob Perry, Nathan Dougherty, and Nathan Hodgson perform Monteverdi’s Duo Seraphim

 

An unexpected Severance Hall debut yields appealing results

Cleveland Orchestra
Klaus Mäkelä, conductor
Augustin Hadelich, violin
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
October 17, 2019

Messiaen: Les Offrandes oubliées
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63
 Encore:
 Tárrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

Following the cancellation of Jaap van Zweden, the weekend’s Cleveland Orchestra concerts found a substitute in the shape of the youthful Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä, poised to become chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic next season. Thursday counted as Mäkelä’s Severance Hall debut, having first conducted TCO at Blossom just a few months ago. Van Zweden’s program stayed intact save for the originally slated opener of Louis Andriessen’s Agamemnon, which hopefully can be revisited in a future season. When faced with a last-minute program change, most orchestras would opt for the familiar, but not so for TCO who turned attention to Messiaen’s Les Offrandes oubliées.

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Klaus Mäkelä, photo credit Heikki Tuuli

Dating from 1930, Les Offrandes oubliées is the composer’s first published orchestral work (a piano transcription would follow the next year). Structured as triptych in evocation of the trinity, the plaintive opening was almost monastic in its austerity. The central section contrasted in every way, often violent in intensity, and time stood still in the glacially-paced final panel, entranced in spiritual contemplation – even in spite of the particularly vociferous army of coughers present in Thursday night’s audience.

Violinist Augustin Hadelich was also making his Severance Hall debut, having performed with this orchestra a handful of times at Blossom since 2009. Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 shows the composer at his most lyrical, beginning unaccompanied with a winding and rather unsettling lyricism emanating from Hadelich’s “Ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivarius. The orchestra supported him via a colorful accompaniment, with Hadelich in deft balance, always achieving a clear projection. The central slow movement features one of Prokofiev’s most lush and lovely melodies, so different from the motoric and mechanistic works of his youthful years as an iconoclastic firebrand. Near the movement’s end was a striking role reversal wherein Hadelich offered a pizzicato accompaniment to buttress the orchestra’s lyricism. The foot-tapping finale was given with a driving vigor, its dance inflections heightened by the use of castanets, also a nod to where the concerto received its 1935 premiere: Madrid. Hadelich’s encore continued the Spanish thread with a transcription of Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, the rapid repeated notes of mesmerizing effect.

The finale of the Prokofiev also dovetailed neatly with the closing Beethoven: none of Beethoven’s works invoke dance as much as the Seventh Symphony, which Wagner famously called “the apotheosis of the dance.” The introduction, the longest of any of the Beethoven symphonies, was given with marked weight in hinting at all that was to come. Rhythmic fragments were introduced, eventually coalescing into the movement proper’s thematic material, heralded by principal flute Joshua Smith. Featherlight textures danced, soon to be countered by the might of the full orchestra. The principal winds were all in fine form, the leading force of the orchestra’s seemingly boundless reserves of energy.

Mäkelä rightly conducted the Allegretto not as a funereal dirge, but in emphasizing its songful beauty, with matters solemn and often awe-inspiring. Rambunctious strings took flight in the scherzo, contrasted by the gleaming brass of its trio. The energy was cranked up yet another notch for the finale, taken at a brisk, uncompromising tempo. An all-around strong showing from a talented young conductor.

Welser-Möst and Cleveland Orchestra deliver an imposing Mahler 5

Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
September 26, 2019

Neuwirth: Masaot/Clocks Without Hands
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor

A Mahler symphony is, virtually by definition, an evening’s worth of music in its own right. While including another work on the same program can feel all but gratuitous, a thoughtful choice can offer illuminating possibilities. This was the case Thursday night, with Welser-Möst pairing Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with a work by Austrian compatriot Olga Neuwirth. Welser-Möst has a keen ear for identifying compositional talent from his home country by names otherwise little known this side of the Atlantic. Neuwirth proved to be another such discovery, a composer The Cleveland Orchestra has touched just once before in a 2004 performance of locus…doublure…solus, also under Welser-Möst’s direction.

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Nathaniel Silberschlag, Franz Welser-Möst, and The Cleveland Orchestra in Mahler’s Fifth. Photos credit Roger Mastroianni, Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

The intriguingly titled Masaot/Clocks Without Hands was originally commissioned by the Vienna Philharmonic for the 2011 centenary of Mahler’s death. Saddled with other projects, Neuwirth delayed composition until 2013-14, and noted that the primary inspiration came from a dream about a grandfather she never met. Nonetheless, the spirit of Mahler runs through the work abundantly. The first part of the title comes from the Hebrew work for “journey”; Neuwirth further depicted a central image of a river that connects disparate groups of people on its long journey to the sea. In that regard, I was reminded of Stromab by Johannes Maria Staud – another work by a contemporary Austrian depicting a river which Welser-Möst fittingly paired with a Mahler symphony two seasons ago.

The work began barely audibly, almost unrecognizable as acoustic sound, but soon erupted into cacophony. Stark contrasts and sharp juxtapositions dominated the bulk of the texture, certainly bringing to mind Mahler’s eclecticism. There was colorfully prominent writing for the celesta, and other passages vaguely brought to mind Jewish folk music, appropriate given the Hebrew title. The woodblock served as a ticking clock – sometimes the only instrument playing – yet by the work’s end, high in the stratosphere, any semblance of time had all but dissolved, hence the titular “clocks without hands.” As a sidenote, the orchestra is bringing the program to Carnegie Hall next week, but replacing the Neuwirth with Widmann’s Trauermarsch – another choice pairing, with the piece directly inspired by the namesake opening movement of Mahler’s Fifth.

The bold, declamatory trumpet of Michael Sachs made for an imposing beginning to the Mahler, even as the music morphed into a doleful lament in the strings. The glacial dirge crested to powerful climaxes, but ultimately withered away at movement’s end. A motoric intensity marked the ensuing Stürmisch bewegt, filled with biting ironies. The sun was nonetheless eventually allowed to shine through, and quite brilliantly in a powerful chorale, but only for a fleeing moment as darkness ultimately prevailed. A massive scherzo serves as the symphony’s centerpiece; some commenters have likened it to a horn concerto given its extended solos for that instrument. This was taken quite literally with newly appointed principal horn Nathaniel Silberschlag standing front and center – a supreme test of his mettle, and quite an initiation to this orchestra. His gleaming tone surmounted the challenges presented, and I look forward to hearing more from him.

A scherzo to end all scherzos, the movement is something of hybrid between the vigor of Beethoven’s and the tragedy of Chopin’s, offering some lighter contrast to the rest of the work but not without eschewing its monumentalism. Shrill clarinets added splashes of color, and the wistful pizzicato strings were particularly lovely. The Adagietto unfurled as a divine love song, strikingly scored for strings and harp alone. Welser-Möst’s tempo choice was prime, sumptuous but not indulgent. Matters grew rapturously passionate before quietly fading. A sunny horn call marked the closing Rondo-Finale, quite a shift in texture and character. This was hardly a straightforward rondo, not in the least for the contrapuntal intricacies, performed with crystalline clarity. The chorale theme first introduced in the second movement returned, as if being reunited with an old friend. This time, however, it flourished unencumbered for an unambiguously glorious ending.

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Halls leads Cleveland Orchestra in moving Mozart mass

Cleveland Orchestra
Matthew Halls, conductor

Joélle Harvey, soprano
Krisztina Szabo, mezzo-soprano
Paul Appleby, tenor
Michael Sumuel, bass-baritone
Blossom Festival Chorus
Lisa Wong, director

Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
August 2, 2019

Mozart: Mass in C minor, K427, Great

The Blossom Festival Chorus had one chance to shine during the Summers@Severance series this year, and they more than made it count in Friday’s performance of Mozart’s Mass in C minor. Mozart perplexingly never completed the Mass (and unlike the case of the also incomplete Requiem, he lived for nearly another decade), yet even its fragmentary state, it remains an undisputed masterwork. Several attempts have been made to complete the work, but conductor Matthew Halls opted for the extant torso in a performing edition by Helmut Eder.

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Matthew Halls, photo credit Jon Christopher Meyers © Oregon Bach Festival

A weighty pathos, buttressing the epithet Great, was to be had from the onset of the Kyrie. The force of the chorus was quickly introduced, countered by the delicate beauty of soprano Joélle Harvey’s voice (in a passage I cannot dissociate from a memorable scene in Amadeus). A powerful response from the chorus was elicited. Tenor Paul Appleby introduced the Gloria unaccompanied as if to announce the commanding fugue, a rather glorious affair bearing a more than passing resemblance to Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.

Mozart wrote the work with his soprano wife Constanze in mind, and consequently there exists a bounty of wondrous writing for the two soprano soloists – and Krisztina Szabo’s flexible instrument was up to the vocal acrobatics in the “Laudamus te”. Crisp dotted rhythms during “Qui tollis” were emblematic of Halls’ tight direction, and there the choral passages were of a tragic beauty that foreshadowed the Requiem. The closing “Cum Sancto Spiritu” beamed in its contrapuntal splendors, anchored by an imposing bass line in the trombone.

The booming bass-baritone of Michael Sumuel opened the Credo just as Appleby did in the Gloria. “Et incarnatus est” was a highlight in its delicate orchestrations, with fine contributions from the principal winds, strings, organ, and Harvey’s limpid vocals. An ebullient and brassy Sanctus led to the prematurely closing Benedictus, the only time vocal quartet were scored together – one only wished there were more opportunities for the ensemble to explore their obvious chemistry.

From Terry Riley to Ethiopia, CMA’s Solstice 2019 an incandescent night to remember

Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, OH
June 22, 2019

Now in its eleventh year, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual Solstice soirée has steadily become the banner cultural event of the Cleveland summer. Running until the early hours of the next morning, the event is first and foremost a musical celebration, with this year’s remarkably diverse lineup curated by the Philadelphia based DJ and record producer King Britt. Two stages were constructed, one in the atrium and one outdoors on the south terrace, allowing for a robust list of performers – and the inevitable frustration of not being able to be at two places simultaneously! Most striking about the outdoor stage was the extensive use of video projection, turning the facade of the museum into a massive canvas on which to display a dizzying array of colors and imagery – with credit to Undervolt & Co. and the team of curators and artists.

The evening opened with a performance of Terry Riley’s watershed In C. Dating from 1964, it is often considered the first major work of minimalism, setting the stage for Glass and Reich. Riley left the instrumentation, number of players, and duration open to interpretation. The present rendering was given by an ensemble of 10 instruments – xylophone, marimba, harp, steel pan, some commanded by multiple players – and lasted just over the 45 minute mark (Wikipedia notes recordings ranging from 16 to 78 minutes). I noticed the players (who were uncredited in the program) used a stopwatch to keep pace, likely a necessity in this work comprised of 53 phrases each to be repeated an indeterminate number of times. The incessant repetitions were mesmerizingly hypnotic, and I was struck by the communal ambience with the performers positioned such that the space between them and the audience all but evaporated. It was hard to not get disoriented in the wash of sound, but I did notice one subtle effect in the use of a cello bow on one of the xylophones, a technique that would later be put to effective use in John Adams’ Scheherazade.2. To close the work, each musician dropped out one at a time, almost imperceptibly, before all that remained was silence.

Terry Riley’s In C

Of course, the evening wasn’t exclusively about the music: one highlight was the opportunity to walk through the galleries after hours – and it was a bit surreal to stand in front of favorite paintings by Pissarro or Church at nearly midnight. Along with the permanent collection, the second iteration of Shinto: Discovery of the Divine in Japanese Art was open to all, a fascinating display of visual art in praise of Japanese deities – some pieces over 1000 years old – further putting the Cleveland Museum of Art on the map as a major destination for Asian art. In addition, a full program of gallery talks were offered. I caught Amanda Mikolic’s discussion of the late 16th-century half armor designed by the noted Pompeo della Cesa.

To my mind, the biggest musical discovery came from the Brooklyn based band Anbessa Orchestra, commanding a musical fusion rooted in the folk traditions of Ethiopia. The seven piece band – including a very fine trumpet player and a flutist à la Ian Anderson – had an absolutely electric chemistry, bridging both Western and African traditions with an unrelenting kinetic energy. There was nonetheless a certain cosmopolitan quality to their music, however, as if some of the folk roots got lost in translation, yet distinctive elements such as the exotic scale central to “Son of No Country” showed a nuanced understanding of the North African inspiration. Back in the atrium, the melodic strumming of guitarist Rafiq Bhatia provided a more laid back alternative to the dance club vibe on the terrace with Ohio native RJD2 – who closed the memorable evening in understated fashion on the acoustic guitar.

Anbessa Orchestra

From Scandinavia to Italy, Cleveland Orchestra closes season in colorful travelogue

Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Simon Keenlyside, baritone
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
May 23, 2019

Grieg: Morning Mood, The Death of Åse, and At the Wedding from Peer Gynt, Op. 23
Sibelius: Kaiutar, No. 4 from Six Songs, Op. 72
Sibelius: Illale, No. 6 from Seven Songs, Op. 17
Sibelius: Aus banger Brust, No. 4 from Six Songs, Op. 50
Sibelius: Svarta rosor, No. 1 from Six Songs, Op. 36
Sibelius: Kom nu hit, död!, No. 1 from Two Songs for Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night, Op. 60
Sibelius: Im Feld ein Mädchen singt, No. 3 from Six Songs, Op. 50
Sibelius: Die stille Stadt, No. 5 from Six Songs, Op. 50
Sibelius: Var det en dröm?, No. 4 from Five Songs, Op. 37
Strauss: Aus Italien, Op. 16

Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra closed the 2018-19 season in an alluring program, with all selections stemming from the late 19th-century (and in to the early 20th), connected by Romantic fascinations from awe-inspiring destinations to drama and poetry. Beginning the evening were selections from Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt. Welser-Möst culled his own suite of three excerpts rather than opting for either of the two suites the composer later produced. The selections were performed in reverse order of appearance in the source material, opening with the familiar Morning Mood (which serves as the prelude to Act 4). Silvery flutes beckoned the morning, with the songful theme passed around the woodwinds before appearing in the strings. Welser-Möst’s brisk tempo ensured matters were never sentimentalized. Lush and mournful strings made The Death of Åse the emotional crux, easily a precursor to Barber’s Adagio. At the Wedding (which opens the complete work) was given with vigor and joyous abandon. A more languorous theme was very finely played in turn by the principal winds while Wesley Collins’ offstage viola radiated folksy charm.

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Simon Keenlyside and Franz Welser-Möst, photos credit Roger Mastroianni, Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

On the heels of his lieder recital a few days prior, Simon Keenlyside returned for the evening’s centerpiece and highpoint – a helping of eight of the seldom-performed songs of Sibelius. The songs at hand were variously in Finnish, Swedish, or German, and in some cases orchestrated by Sibelius himself, others by contemporaries. Keenlyside brought out the lyrical qualities of the Swedish language in Kaiutar, with an orchestration that encouraged its fantastical, fairy-tale atmosphere. Crepuscular strings made Illale a true gem, and the next selection turned to German in a setting of Richard Dehmel’s Aus banger Brust. Dehmel’s poetry served as text for the likes of Strauss and Schoenberg, and Sibelius proved no less adept with the work’s acerbic dissonances and moving solo passages from concertmaster Peter Otto in faithful service of the text. Svarta rosor, a comparatively better-known quantity, was of robust lyricism and grand emotions, nearly operatic with an unforgiving close to boot.

Unlike the others all originally scored for voice and piano, Kom nu hit, död! came from a set of two Swedish settings of Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night for voice and guitar, given a rather gloomy reading at present. The richness of Im Feld ein Mädchen singt could easily have been mistaken for Strauss, while Die stille Stadt – another Dehmel setting – maintained a remarkably surreal atmosphere, enhanced by ethereal sounds from the glockenspiel, harp, and high strings. The last selection, Var det en dröm?, displayed again Keenlyside’s keen ability to seamlessly switch languages, and brought matters to a passionate, satisfying close, feeling almost as if these eight otherwise disparate songs were conceived as a unified cycle.

Strauss’ Aus Italien drew inspiration from an Italian journey undertaken by the composer as an impressionable youth, and became the first entry in his great series of tone poems. It’s an immature work to be sure, yet many Straussian hallmarks are already firmly in place, setting the stage for the musical revolutions that would soon be flowing from his pen. This was certainly apparent in the opening Auf der Campagne which could only have been written by Strauss, with elemental beginnings burgeoning into material larger than life. Brassy passages were of arresting vigor, although otherwise matters in performance weren’t entirely polished, sounding as if some extra rehearsal time was needed – no doubt, I suspect, ironed out by the Saturday performance.

Rather than the single-movement architecture of the successive tone poems, Aus Italien was conceived far less cohesively as four distinct portraits. In Roms Ruinen followed suit, generally lighter fare of Italianate charm interspersed with more solemn moments in awe of the eponymous ruins. Strauss’ idiomatic orchestral effects certainly began to crystallize in Am Strande von Sorrent, a coloristic painting of the sun-drenched coast of Sorrento. The closing Neapolitanisches Volksleben marked the work as a foreigner’s less than reliable view of Italy in that Strauss mistook a popular tune of the day for bone fide Neapolitan folk music (I was somewhat reminded of the All’Italiana movement from the Busoni piano concerto heard earlier this season – though there the composer was no foreigner, it too juxtaposed Italianate folk melodies in the context of an otherwise very Teutonic musical language). In any case, matters were nonetheless of an infectious joie de vivre, banal yet so colorfully orchestrated. The orchestra’s committed playing heightened one’s interest: ultimately the rewards were mixed, though the players on stage made as strong a case as they could in this vintage work displaying the budding composer’s incipient genius.

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Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra in Aus Italien

Keenlyside commands a dark, penetrating Winterreise

Simon Keenlyside, baritone
Natalia Katyukova, piano
Reinberger Chamber Hall
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
May 19, 2019

Schubert: Winterreise, D911

If local audiences hadn’t quite gotten their fill of late Schubert with the weekend’s Cleveland Orchestra performance of the E flat major Mass, Simon Keenlyside offered the composer’s incomparable song cycle Winterreise in recital Sunday night, a prelude to his appearance with the orchestra the following week. The intimate Reinberger Chamber Hall – all too seldom used as a performance space – made for an ideal setting for the soul-baring songs, forlorn and icy cold. Though perhaps not the most seasonally appropriate on a spring evening, as if on cue with the subject matter, the temperature outside dropped appreciably nearing performance time. Supporting Keenlyside was pianist Natalia Katyukova who provided a remarkable accompaniment, on par with the baritone’s passionate delivery.

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Caspar David Friedrich, Winterlandschaft mit Kirche (photo credit Wikimedia Commons)

The impact of this 70-minute song cycle – although as the program books correctly noted, Winterreise isn’t truly a cycle given the lack of recurrence – was truly visceral, and one could scarcely imagine a better advocate than Keenlyside. Originally scored for tenor, Schubert allowed for other voice types, and Keenlyside’s case for Winterreise belonging to the domain of baritones was thoroughly convincing, the lower register well-suited to the gloomy poetry of Wilhelm Müller. The highlights were many, beginning with the opening Gute Nacht, strengthened by the rich darkness of the baritone and pained dissonances in the piano. Die Wetterfahne was of angst and unrest, while there was intense drama in Erstarrung, with some modest acting from Keenlyside to enhance the outcry – though this acting was less directed at the audience and more to convey the sense that we were witnessing a deep internal monologue.

A liquescent, rippling accompaniment and gorgeous lyricism from the singer in Der Lindenbaum made for an early highpoint in the cycle. I was struck by the palpable pain on the words “mein Herz” during Auf dem Flusse, while Frühlingstraum offered some momentary respite – that is, until the titular dream ended, the song residing in a tenuous gray area between dream and reality. Einsamkeit was as forlorn as the title suggested, and time stood still in Der greise Kopf, wherein the speaker wished he was graying and thus closer to end of life – but such was only an illusion from the wintry frost, the agony of life prolonged. Die Krähe was utterly haunting in both melody and imagery (perhaps an inspiration to Edgar Allan Poe?). There was heart-wrenching isolation in Der Wegweiser, in which the speaker felt shunned by society; Mut! saw his last embers of fiery defiance – buttressed by Keenlyside’s foot-stomping – before resignation. The unnervingly inconclusive Der Leiermann saw Keenlyside staring off into the distance, mere feet from the audience but psychologically miles away as matters remained painfully unresolved. I don’t often get the goosebumps like I did from this performance, magnificent yet exhausting in its depth and darkness.

Musical discoveries abound in Bychkov’s Cleveland Orchestra program

Cleveland Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov, conductor
Katia Labèque, piano
Marielle Labèque, piano
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
May 9, 2019

Glanert: Weites Land, Musik mit Brahms
Bruch: Concerto for Two Pianos, Op. 88a
 Encore:
 Ravel: Le jardin féerique, from Ma mère l’Oye
Smetana: Vyšehrad, Vltava, and Šárka from Má vlast

The Cleveland Orchestra certainly has a knack for presenting programs that resist the tried-and-true, and Thursday’s concert was no exception, another triumph of imaginative programming with both works on the first half receiving their inaugural performances from this ensemble. Guest conductor Semyon Bychkov has championed the works of contemporary composer Detlev Glanert, and opened the evening with the US premiere of the 2013 work Weites Land. Roughly translating to English as Wide Open Land, the work also bears the subtitle Musik mit Brahms. Like Brahms, Glanert hails from Hamburg, and the work of the elder composer has often served as his guiding lighthere quite patently so, with the arching primary theme of the Fourth Symphony serving as the present work’s structural backbone. An obvious invocation of the symphony opened, familiar for a fleeting moment, then morphing into dissipated modernity. The Brahms theme served as guideposts at various intervals, while the wide, open spaces between were filled with colorfully dissonant filigree, often unexpected yet still approachable, and ultimately a brief Brahmsian gesture brought matters to a close.

A true rarity followed in the Concerto for Two Pianos by Max Bruch, featuring the acclaimed Labèque sisters (who opted for the Bruch in favor of the initially programmed work for the same forces by Martinů). Bruch completed the work in 1915, near the tail end of his career, in fact with another sibling duo in mind, Rose and Ottilie Sutro. To the composer’s dismay, the dedicatees performed the work in a vastly simplified version, and Bruch’s original version didn’t surface to the public until the 1970s. Bruch’s intentions were certainly respected and challenges easily surmounted Thursday evening; between the two pianists, the opening theme was presented in eight octaves, a commanding beginning saturated in solemnity. An exacting fugue followed, beginning in the pianos, and blossoming to great power when the orchestra joined.

Bychkov and the Labèque sisters’ 1993 recording of the Bruch concerto

A slow introduction marked the next movement, with sweeping arpeggios on the keyboards and gentle touches in the oboe from Frank Rosenwein. The movement proper was of scherzo-like playfulness, contrasted by the lyrical beauty of the succeeding. The octave theme returned in the finale, a passionate last vestige of German Romanticism (indeed, the four movement structure certainly pointed towards the Brahms concertos as inspiration). A work which soloists and conductor clearly believe in (having recorded it some years ago), though to my ears not the most melodically rewarding. The duo encored with the final segment of Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye – gorgeous playing which said more in those few minutes than in Bruch’s twenty-five.

Bychkov currently serves as music director of the Czech Philharmonic, and accordingly was able to offer penetrating insights to the first three selections of Smetana’s Má vlast. A work central to Czech musical culture, it inaugurates the storied Prague Spring International Music Festival every year on May 12, the anniversary of the composer’s death – coming just days after the present performance. Vyšehrad opened with a pair of harps, lush and rhapsodic, to set the stage for the epic tale of the namesake fortress. The Vyšehrad theme – which reappears throughout the cycle – was first sounded by the horns, warm and mellow. The vicissitudes of the castle through history were depicted, always majestic in the end.

By far the most recognizable of the six tone poems, Vltava began with liquescent flutes in evocation of the confluence of the springs that form the titular river. Matters swelled to a richly lyrical theme, arching, aching, and the picturesque journey of the river was painted in delirious detail. Most memorable was the “night music”, fantastical and sublime, as well as the appearance of the Vyšehrad theme when the river snaked its way through Prague, displaying the full splendor of the Cleveland brass. The ferocity with which Šárka opened portended the darkly murderous tale to come. Folk-inflected material and the lambent clarinet of Afendi Yusuf offered some momentary respite, yet the music inexorably culminated in a violent, gruesome end. One’s appetite was certainly whetted for more Smetana – as noted in the program books, the orchestra hasn’t performed Má vlast complete since 1976, so surely it is high time for a traversal of the full cycle!

Michail Jurowski makes belated US debut in blistering Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky

Cleveland Orchestra
Michail Jurowski, conductor
Vadim Gluzman, violin
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
May 5, 2019

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
 Encore:
 Bach: Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 – Sarabande
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, The Year 1905

Last weekend’s Cleveland Orchestra concerts marked not only Michail Jurowski’s local debut, but – astonishingly for a 75-year-old with a long and distinguished career – his US debut. Good things come to those who wait, and given the level of playing, one could have easily mistook conductor and orchestra as seasoned collaborators. Adding to the occasion was Jurowski’s participation in a pre-concert interview along with violin soloist Vadim Gluzman, both offering fascinating insights. Gluzman spoke of his cherished instrument, a 1690 Stradivarius formerly played by Leopold Auer, the original dedicatee of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – this is to say, this is the instrument for which the composer envisioned his now ubiquitous concerto. In deference to the violin’s provenance, Gluzman remarked on his preference for Auer’s edition of the work. Jurowski fondly recalled his first exposure to The Cleveland Orchestra while the latter was on tour to Moscow in 1965 under Szell. This performance he called one of the “most powerful feelings from live music” he’d ever experienced, and was thus particularly keen to stand in front of them as conductor. He further reminisced about his personal friendship with Shostakovich, with whom he played piano duets!

Pre-concert interview, left to right: moderator Cicilia Yudha, Michail Jurowski, Vadim Gluzman

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is certainly a well-known quantity, yet violinist and conductor managed to forge a fresh interpretation. A gentle, untroubled lyricism opened the work, so much at odds with the composer’s tormented life. Gluzman’s instrument was particularly rich in the low register, something Tchaikovsky took advantage of when writing the work, emanating a songful, burnished tone in this music of endless, organic development, with one theme flowing out of the next. The orchestral climax was given with vigor and swagger, and in the cadenza, one was struck by Gluzman’s crystal clear intonation of the stratospherically high notes and thorough command of his storied instrument – joined by flutist Joshua Smith in a particularly affecting moment. A choir of winds – a notch too loud to my ears – opened the central Canzonetta, and the violin sang with an ineffable melancholy, quite a contrast from the breakneck dance of the finale. Gluzman encored with the sarabande from Bach’s Second Partita, given with stately introspection.

Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony is patently programmatic, recounting the horrific events of Bloody Sunday in graphic detail. The events – occurring one year before the composer’s birth and witnessed firsthand by his father – entailed the mass murder of peaceful demonstrators by the tsarist regime on a fateful Sunday in January 1905. The symphony was completed in 1957, and Jurowski suggested it was inspired by the Hungarian Revolution of the year prior which had some clear parallels – in other words, ever the subversive, Shostakovich was using historical events to comment upon the present. The work opened with the eerie and chilling motionlessness of a St. Petersburg January, a calm before the storm, aspiring to the monumental stasis of a Bruckner symphony. A plethora of folk songs in support of the revolutionary program was integral to the fabric of the work, first appearing in the brilliant trumpet of Michael Sachs.

A jarring contrast was had in the following movement, structurally serving as a scherzo but miles removed from a light-hearted affair. Matters seemed to crest to apparent triumph, only to devolve into music of shattering, shocking violence, with the snare depicting gunshots in gruesome recount, leading to a grinding fugue in the low strings of blistering contrapuntal ferocity. What followed was music of a broken world, never the same, this being the beginning of the end for the tsarists, and ghostly sounds of the celesta and muted trumpet finally brought matters to an inconclusive close. The third movement, titled “Eternal Memory”, was mourning of deepest lamentation. The strings initiated, followed ominously by the low brass. Matters burgeoned to an impassioned outcry, but in due course retreated to the somber beginnings. The closing “Tocsin” (“Alarm” – fittingly at this point a siren was heard from a passing emergency vehicle outside) jolted matters out of the shadows, startling in intensity. A march of relentless vigor proceeded, toppling over into a reminiscence of the quietude of the work’s distant opening, heightened by a plaintive English horn solo from Robert Walters. The coda added bells to the texture, material as impressive and blood rushing as anything Shostakovich wrote, yet after such bombast, Jurowski held the audience suspended in shocking silence.

US premiere of Deutsch’s Okeanos makes strong impression

Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Paul Jacobs, organ
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
March 14, 2019

Haydn: Symphony No. 34 in D minor, Hob. I:34
Deutsch: Okeanos
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

Prior to The Cleveland Orchestra’s impending and extensive tour of China, Franz Welser-Möst is back in town for a pair of programs, the first of which was centered on Cleveland’s introduction to the tenth Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow, Bernd Richard Deutsch. Also hailing from Welser-Möst’s native Austria, Deutsch is representative of what is sometimes referred to as the Third Viennese School, a loose amalgamation of composers whose music has been championed by the contemporary music ensemble Klangforum Wien.

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Franz Welser-Möst and Paul Jacobs in Okeanos. Photos credit Roger Mastroianni, Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

The work Deutsch made his calling card was Okeanos, a nearly 30-minute canvas for organ and orchestra dating from 2014-15, and inspired by the titular Greek personification of the oceans. Prefacing the performance, Deutsch and organist Paul Jacobs were on hand for a fascinating preconcert discussion (although I did wish that moderator Caroline Oltmanns had been gracious enough to give the two more airtime). Okeanos is conceived in four movements, each representing the fundamental elements, respectively, water, air, earth, and fire. The work began almost indeterminately, with tremolos obscuring fragments of themes, and the organ so wrapped into the fabric of the orchestra as to be hardly discernible. The movement soon grew far more animated, building to a fluid gravitas, with the organ powerfully prominent in music of cosmic visceral impact – yet the movement ended in no more than a whisper.

“Air” opened with rapid fluttering in the organ along with a wind machine used to obvious effect. Colorful glissandi on the organ were imitated by the harp and celesta. “Earth” was a more glacial affair, filled with otherworldly timbres usually emanating from the percussion battery, as vast and diverse as one could imagine. “Fire” was of rapid virtuosity and quite ferocious playing, emphasizing the rhythmic primacy of the percussion. Further striking effects were achieved through muted trombones; at movement’s end the texture dug down into the depths of the organ, ending on a sustained chord at quadruple forte – an imposing effect to be sure. Deutsch noted that the structure of the work was determined by the golden ratio – a thought-provoking compositional approach with antecedents in Debussy and elsewhere, though certainly not apparent on first hearing. As part of his fellowship, Deutsch has been commissioned to write a new work for the orchestra, to be performed at the end of next season (May 2020) – I look forward to music that lies ahead.

The evening began with the first Cleveland Orchestra performances of a lesser-known Haydn symphony, No. 34 in D minor. The first of the composer’s to be cast in the minor, it served as an incubator for the series of Sturm und Drang symphonies that would soon follow. Haydn quite surprisingly begins with the slow movement – what initially sounds like merely an introduction turns out to be a symphonic edifice nearly as long as the remaining movements combined. A lament in the strings was marked by the clarity of the inner voices in this statement of genuine expressive depth. After the weighty beginnings, the minor was all but forgotten and matters proceeded wholly unperturbed. The sudden high spirits of the second movement were further encouraged by the courtly minuet with lovely woodwind triplets during its trio. And as is often the case with Haydn’s whirlwind finales, one only wished it wasn’t so brief.

Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Fifth Symphony completed the program in lush Romanticism. A plaintive presentation of the fate motive in the clarinets opened the work to chilling effect, eventually coalescing as an energetic march, gathering great strength in the face of fate and brimming with endlessly flowing melody. Welser-Möst took matters at a startlingly brisk tempo – while I applaud his resolve to not sentimentalize, I would have preferred the music to breathe a bit more. Low strings of deep emotion marked the slow movement, a backdrop for the sumptuous horn solo, delicately interjected by Afendi Yusuf’s clarinet. While Welser-Möst might not have probed as deep as some, the result was nonetheless long, flowing lines of rapturous beauty. The tragic obsessions of the first two movements were left behind in the lilting Valse, decorated by mercurial strings. The fate motive resurfaced, suddenly benign, setting the stage for the finale wherein matters were miraculously morphed to the triumphant.

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The Cleveland Orchestra performs Okeanos. Note the percussion battery and muted brass.