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.