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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Concert Review: Sunday Mass at Severance Hall

The Cleveland Orchestra plays Mozart and Strauss
The men and women of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus get ready to hit the road.
(This doesn't have much to do with this concert, but it's an awesome photograph!)
© 1962 The Cleveland Orchestra/Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.
In the course of Franz Welser-Möst's decade at the helm of the Cleveland Orchestra, he has pioneered the concept of residencies in other cities as a means of promoting the orchestra and raising much-needed revenues by having concerts outside of Severance Hall.

On Sunday afternoon, the orchestra offered the same program it will take to Vienna's historic Musikverein as part of a two-night residency in the capital of the conductor's home country. The program pairs Richard Strauss' mournful Metamorphosen with the Great Mass in c minor, a lesser-known, unfinished work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

 Metamorphosen is one of Richard Strauss' last works, a funereal piece written in 1944 for 23 solo strings. In the course of a 25-minute-span, Strauss looks back on the glories of Western music and realizes he is standing at the end of his art form. The music quotes and references 200 years of German music, from Mozart and Beethoven to Strauss himself. The subject matter: the death of German musical culture under the Nazi boot, and the destruction of famous music venues in Dresden and Vienna under the Allied assault in World War II.

Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Metamorphosen ebbs and flows with Strauss' characteristic, long melodic lines. The Cleveland string players captured the autumnal glow that illuminates the score, the blend of small ensembles and solo melodic lines that weave together to create a dense, and ultimately soothing blanket of sound.

Part of the legend surrounding Mozart includes his Requiem, unfinished at the time of his death. No such drama surrounds the Great Mass--Mozart simply didn't finish the piece. But in this performing edition, assembled by musicologist H. Robbins Landon, Mr. Welser-Möst made a good case for this lesser-known work.

 He was reinforced by an able cast of singers, led by sopranos Malin Hartelius and Julia Lezhneva--the latter heard recently at this summer's Mostly Mozart Festival. Joined by tenor Martin MutterRutzner and bass Ruben Drole. the singers delivered the sacred text with warmth and devotion to Mozart's melodic lines.

The glory of this performance was the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, under the direction of Robert Porco. The choristers made each movement of the Grosse Messe a powerful declaration of faith, not just in the religious subject matter but in the power of Mozart's music. Even in its torso state, this Mass is a raw gem. Here, it was polished with smooth precision under Mr. Welser-Möst's expert direction.

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