Gripping Shostakovich and slack Beethoven make for mixed program by Cleveland Orchestra
Tense, riveting Shostakovich and mushy, shapeless Beethoven made for a mixed evening Friday, as the Cleveland Orchestra continued its Miami residency.
The soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto was the renowned American violinist Joshua Bell. Although he received the predictable cheers and standing ovation from the Arsht Center audience, his interpretation made this vast, expansive work feel smaller, less dramatic and lacking a sense of musical architecture.
In the orchestral introduction of the first movement, taken at a brisk speed, the orchestra under music director Franz Welser-Möst sounded surprisingly muddy, with themes getting buried in a general blur of sound. Bell took an approach that seemed rushed, zipping through the passagework in a manner that came off as too casual, not taking the time to give the work shape and form. High points failed to stand out, as in the great passages in which the violin weaves triplets around the theme in the orchestra, with the climax just passing by without much weight or impact.
Beethoven left it to generations of violinists to write cadenzas, and Bell played his own—a discordant procession of extra-planetary harmonies that proved jarring and anachronistic in the first movement, and more in synch with the concerto in the last. The second movement came off best, with Bell playing with a rounded tone and fine phrasing in the hushed melody in the middle register. In the third movement, the orchestra provided boldly projected playing, and Bell delivered smoothly rendered passagework, although the performance didn’t bring out much of the movement’s robust assertiveness.
Welser-Möst has demonstrated a real affinity for Shostakovich’s symphonies, having led the orchestra last year in a taut performance of the Symphony No. 6. He chose another of the composer’s dark, brooding symphonic works this time, the Symphony No. 10, giving a concentrated, completely absorbing performance. The work lives to an unusual extent in the lower strings, and the playing by the orchestra’s cellos and basses was dark and grim, but never clouded. Solos by clarinet, flute and bassoon were lonely, bleak interludes. Welser-Möst led the orchestra to two finely calibrated climaxes, with immense clarity and shape, despite all the volume produced by the massed orchestral forces.
Although there’s a dour flavor to much of his output, Shostakovich can orchestrate in the brilliant Russian tradition of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky. The manic second movement came off like a hurricane in the hands of the Cleveland ensemble, with urgent, driving playing in the violins. The third, with its almost comically sinister opening theme, was marked by fine, evocative playing in the horns. In the last movement, the long English horn solo at the beginning was a highlight, played with great tonal richness and sensitivity of phrasing. Welser-Möst drove the orchestra through the ominous tones in the strings and percussion to an abrupt, tightly played, rhythmical taut coda.
The Cleveland Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami. arshtcenter.org, 305-949-6722
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Sat Jan 26, 2013
at 12:37 pm