Under Bělohlávek, Cleveland Orchestra wraps Miami season in virtuosic style

By Lawrence Budmen


Conductor Jiri Bělohlávek led the Cleveland Orchestra in music of Haydn, Dvorak and Rachmaninoff Friday night at the Arsht Center.

The Cleveland Orchestra concluded its fifth annual Miami residency with an incandescent performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 Friday night at the Arsht Center. With Czech conductor Jiri Bělohlávek in command, the Clevelanders were in top form, all sections playing with high-tech virtuosity and tonal luster.

Principal conductor of London’s BBC Symphony and chief conductor designate of the Czech Philharmonic, Bělohlávek brought a deep affinity for Dvořák’s signature mix of Czech folk elements and Brahmsian grandeur.  A conductor of the old school with a clear and expressive baton technique that avoided podium display, Bělohlávek drew consistently inspired music-making from the Clevelanders.

The drama and mystery Bělohlávek conveyed in the symphony’s opening bars presaged a reading of rugged power and bracing passion. This was not once-over-lightly Dvořák. Big dynamic contrasts, spacious lyrical episodes and fiery brass pronouncements propelled the symphony’s journey, with the gravitas of the D minor key dominant throughout. The orchestra’s stellar wind section had a field day withDvořák’s felicitous writing. Daniel McKelway’s warm, fluent clarinet and Joshua Smith’s honeyed flute wove the elegiac melody of the Poco adagio to haunting effect. The restless intensity of the blazing orchestral climaxes in the slow movement seemed like a churning storm amidst Dvořák’s portrait of the Czech countryside.

The conductor’s taut perusal of the third movement Vivace showcased the resplendent sonority of the ensemble’s strings under concertmaster William Preucil. In the concluding Allegro, tempestuous passion alternated with the lilt and Czech rhythms of contrasting themes. Bělohlávek masterfully kept the momentum at fever pitch, building to a coda of overwhelming impact.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D Major (Miracle) received a high energy, technically flawless reading that combined vigor and clarity. Eschewing period-performance practice, Belohlavek offered old fashioned, big band Haydn.  Yet there was nothing stodgy in the conductor’s vivacious traversal of the rousing opening movement. In an aristocratically shaped Andante the contrasts between gleaming winds and silken strings delighted the ear.

A high-voltage, riveting Menuetto was definitely not for dancing. In the trio, the tonal compass and beauty of Frank Rosenwein’s oboe solos took pride of place, his ornamentation of the melodic line wonderfully idiomatic. A rapid-paced, sparkling finale concluded a riveting performance that avoided the old Papa Haydn clichés.


Horacio Gutierrez

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor may be one of the most overplayed warhorses in the repertoire but there was nothing hackneyed about Horacio Gutierrez’s take-no-prisoners performance. A formidable virtuoso with firepower to burn at the keyboard, Gutierrez brought a welcome measure of restraint to the opening Moderato movement, holding his pianistic volleys for the big climaxes.

The soloist’s poetic side came to the fore in the haunting Adagio sostenuto with Gutierrez painting the long lyrical line with bursts of pastel coloration. Marisela Sager’s silvery-toned flute blended seamlessly with the soloist’s embroideries.  In the finale, Gutierrez fired fistfuls of octaves at lightning speed, his wide reach at both ends of the keyboard channeling a dazzling display of old-fashioned bravura.

Bělohlávek’s finely nuanced conducting was on the same level. The orchestral strands of a Rachmaninoff concerto have rarely been conveyed with such precision and clarity of detail. With a blazing pianistic display and inspired conducting, this proved the high point of the ensemble’s 2011 Miami residency.

The concert opened with a moving performance of the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, in tribute to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The Cleveland Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at the Arsht Center.  305-949-6722 www.clevelandorchestramiami.com



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Sat Apr 9, 2011
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