Gripping Shostakovich and slack Beethoven make for mixed program by Cleveland Orchestra

By David Fleshler

Franz Welser-Möst conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in a program of Beethoven and Shostakovich Friday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Roger Mastroianni

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.

Joshua Bell

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., 305-949-6722

Posted in Performances

4 Responses to “Gripping Shostakovich and slack Beethoven make for mixed program by Cleveland Orchestra”

  1. Posted Jan 26, 2013 at 6:36 pm by Bruce

    I totally disagree with your review of the Beethoven. I found the the interpretation beautifully flowing, the orchestra perfect in balance with the violin, and Joshua Bell’s playing ravishing. He took a decidedly classical approach, emphasizing lyricism over big romantic sweeps and gestures. I thought it was one of the best versions of the concerto I’ve ever heard.

  2. Posted Jan 27, 2013 at 10:12 am by Jeremy

    I completely agree with Mr. Flesher. It was the most cerebral and boring performance ever. He played like a robot, no feeling at all. And conductor and orchestra didn’t help either.

  3. Posted Feb 01, 2013 at 11:01 am by A B

    It is really sad and unfortunate that the Herald chooses someone as completely unqualified to give a musical review as whomever David Fleshler is. Speaking on behalf of the educated and informed Miami music community, or as Mr. Flesher puts it “the Arsht Center audience”, I can categorically say that all of the negative statements in this supposed review are based on absolutely no musical facts. It is one thing to disagree with interpretative aspects of a performer. Everyone is entitled to that. But this pedestrian article serves only to shine a light on the ignorance of an untrained ear. Joshua Bell is a legendary musician who’s career will not be affected by such a petty individual’s opinion but the legitimacy of the Miami Herald as a forum for critical reviews is left in doubt with such an article. Perhaps Mr. Flesher should enjoy the performance next time instead of trying desperately and pathetically to sound like a legitimate music critic (three words which are already paradoxical to begin with).

  4. Posted Feb 06, 2013 at 5:50 pm by Diana

    I feel sad that the ravishing beauty of
    Bell’s performance of Beethoven’s concerto for some reason did not reach the ears of Mr. Fleshler. Luckily it was not the case for the rest of the grateful audience, myself included.

    I agree with A B, Mr. Fleshner, try relaxing your brains next time, you might actually be able to hear the music, and not just the cockroaches chatting in your brain.

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Sat Jan 26, 2013
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