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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Concert Review: The Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

The Cleveland Orchestra's appearance at Carnegie Hall on Friday night featured Berg's Lulu Suite, bookended by energetic performances of Beethoven's "Corolian" Overture and the Eroica Symphony.

Franz Welser-Möst

Franz Welser-Möst led a performance that emphasized the orchestra's signature sound, a warm, rich, mellow blend that puts the crack string section squarely to the fore.This overture, which depicts the petulant Roman general Coriolanus (star of his own Shakespeare tragedy) came off as the first movement of a lost Beethoven symphony. Mr. Welser-Möst, whose unusual podium style often finds his back turned to half the orchestra at any given time, emphasized the power of Beethoven's rude energy as well as the work's delicate use of counterpoint.

The Lulu Suite, a series of excerpts from Alban Berg's second opera was originally designed to promote the performance of Lulu in Vienna. It is ironic then, that the the Clevelanders' performance followed a successful three-night run of Lulu in its entirety at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Welser-Möst transformed Berg's often spiky and atonal textures into lush sounds, emphasizing the post-Romanticism that beats at the heart of this opera. He was aided by the soaring soprano of Erin Morley. She sang Lulu's lied with passion, rising to the character's self-defense with an expansive display of technical prowess. The ostinato movement and the final "Jack the Ripper" scene brought the heavy brass to the fore, cutting through the warm textures like the cold steel of that famous killer.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 is one of those works that is played and re-interpreted so frequently that any performance of it throws light upon the conductor and his ideas regarding music in general. On Friday night, Mr. Welser-Möst led the first movement with great clarity of texture, emphasizing the contrapuntal nature of Beethoven's writing. It is a testament to the skill of the Cleveland players that the under-themes and ground bass were as compelling to listen to as the main melodies of the work.

The famous funeral march was taken at a deliberate pace, but never plodded. The third movement's trio section was marred by some bad notes in the horns, but the orchestra recovered. The famous finale, where Beethoven builds a towering structure out of just a few notes, was played at a brisk, compelling pace.
Photo © 2009 Roger Mastroianni/The Cleveland Orchestra
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.