Lorenzo Viotti, conductor
Yuja Wang, piano
November 29, 2019
Prokofiev: Suite from The Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33bis
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40
Gluck-Sgambati: “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Orfeo ed Euridice
Poulenc: Sinfonietta, FP 141
Ravel: La valse
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, The Cleveland Orchestra dependably serves a musical feast, and this year was hardly an exception. Friday (coincidentally, the 150th birthday of the orchestra’s founder, Adella Prentiss Hughes) marked the local debut of 29-year-old conductor Lorenzo Viotti. Currently principal conductor of Portugal’s Gulbenkian Orchestra, and dubbed to assume the same role with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra next season, Viotti is a conductor who Cleveland music director Franz Welser-Möst singled out as being especially promising during an interview previewing the current season. Viotti’s colorfully appealing program was bifurcated by nationality with a Russian first half preceding a French second.
Prokofiev’s six-movement suite from The Love for Three Oranges opened with the composer’s characteristically vigorous orchestrations, bringing to life the opera’s colorful cast of characters with gentler, dancing winds contrasting. The following “Infernal Scene” was darkly surreal in its unusual timbres, while the “Marche” – the opera’s most indelible quantity – was given a crisply rhythmic and foot-tapping workout. “The Prince and the Princess” made for a lyrical interlude, the deeply touching language anticipating Romeo and Juliet. Viotti roused the requisite virtuosity for the roiling “Flight” that closed.
As central to repertoire as Rachmaninov’s works for piano and orchestra are, the Fourth Concerto has been relegated to periphery, not having been performed by this orchestra since 1996. An arsenal of energy opened, quickly paving the way for the full-bodied entry of the incomparable Yuja Wang. The fiendishly difficult piano writing was easily surmounted by her fleet fingerwork, and about two thirds of the way through the movement, matters burgeoned to a climax as grand and lush as anything Rachmaninov wrote. The solo introduction of the Largo was of deep melancholy, revealing Wang’s lyrical gifts, and in due course aided by burnished strings.
Textures grew impassioned and stormier, leading to the jarring transition to the closing Allegro vivace. Wang’s sleight-of-hand pianism negotiated the jazz-inflected rhythmic complexities, and chains of double octaves were effortlessly delivered with fire and panache. The orchestra supported Wang with a colorful accompaniment – Jeffrey Rathbun’s oboe a standout – culminating in a muscular conclusion. While ultimately perhaps not as memorable as the composer’s other works in the medium, it certainly merits hearings at more regular intervals! Although not indulging the Severance Hall audience in one of her encore marathons, Wang nonetheless responded to the hearty ovation with the wistful lyricism of a transcription from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
The Cleveland Orchestra gave the US premiere of Poulenc’s Sinfonietta under George Szell in 1949, but remarkably hasn’t touched it since. Kudos then to Viotti for resurrecting this vintage gem, which despite its obscurity, local audiences had the chance to hear as recently as this past March on a CityMusic program. The opening movement brimmed with melodies of immediate appeal, piquant and bright, a sort of synthesis of 20th-century sensibilities within a classical economy, invoking comparison to Prokofiev’s Classical symphony. The inner movements were respectively joyfully light-hearted and sweetly songful, the latter with noteworthy solo passages from the trumpet and clarinet. Perhaps an expression of post-war bliss, the finale was utterly untroubled, and delectably so.
Continuing with French appropriations Germanic forms, matters turned to waltz in Ravel’s iconic La valse. Originally conceived for solo piano (heard just the previous weekend in Soyeon Kate Lee’s recital at the Cleveland Museum of Art), the orchestral version shows in no uncertain terms the composer’s stunning mastery of instrumentation. Beginning with barely audible rumbles, a sultry waltz theme took shape, with sumptuous harps adding to the dizzyingly rich tapestry: a glitteringly cataclysmic dissolution of the once venerable waltz.