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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Concert Review: The Glittering Sound of Another Age

Jane Glover conducts the Cleveland Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor and period performance expert Jane Glover is in Cleveland playing
Mozart and Haydn. And Superconductor is there too. Photo © 2016
The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the finest and most unique ensembles in North America, playing all kinds of repertory with a professionalism and polish that evokes the legendary ensembles of central Europe. On Thursday evening, British conductor Jane Glover visited the orchestra in its home building of Severance Hall, leading a program of symphonies by Haydn and Mozart flanking a rare double concerto by the latter composer.

If you've never been to Severance Hall, it is well worth the visit. The venue sits on a lagoon at one end of the campus of Case-Western Reserve University, looking like the stage-right temple in the third act of Aida. Built in 1931, its stony exterior houses a pair of gorgeous performances spaces with a chamber music space off the downstairs lobby. The concert hall itself is upstairs, picked out in cream paint, burnished aluminum and walnut, its rapt listeners ensconced in comfortable, plush blue seats. And the acoustics are crystalline.

The Cleveland players shimmered in the opening first piece,, Haydn's Symphony No. 6. Dubbed "Le Matin", this is the first of three symphonies that were written early in the composer's residency at Esterhàzy, the country estate in Hungary where Haydn worked as court composer. It is a sunny, genial work, with woodwinds replicating the calls of birds over a buoyant combination of strings and harpsichord continuo.

Ms. Glover demonstrated this work's origins in the sinfonia concertante, taking pains to highlight the solo opportunities granted to the solo violin, flute and oboe.  The bright D Major key suffused all four movements, from the stately Adagio with a brilliant andante middle section, the playful minuet and the whizzing Rondo, which ended Haydn's "morning" on an optimistic note.

Mozart was in Paris when he was asked to write a concerto for two siblings who played the flute and harp. The result is one of his most unique works, a double concerto that affords equal opportunity to this combination of instruments, that hearkens back to classical Greece. Here, Cleveland Orchestra principal flute Joshua Smith paired with a native of that country, the harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, who has built an international reputation as a virtuoso soloist on this bulky instrument.

This little-heard concerto held no terrors for Ms. Glover and her players , who launched into the opening Allegro with a flourish from both soloists. Their little ensemble played both with and against the orchestral tutti, who offered commentary on their musical lines as well as sturdy support. The Andantino slow movement was particularly lovely, as conductor, soloists and orchestra showed that this unusual little concerto should not be neglected.

Although playing as a mid-sized ensemble, the rich, satisfying sound of the Cleveland Orchestra was to the forefront for the Mozart Symphony No. 39. Indeed, the opening movement sounded particularly focused, with all the precise little musical building blocks carefully in place. Ms. Glover favored a vigorous tempo for the work, redolent of the historically informed performance practises that she has based much of her career on. In the sparkling acoustic, the Cleveland players were both bright and entirely natural, with warm tones in the horns and clarinets sounding against the cheerful chatter of the strings.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats