Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom:
Mozart under the Stars (July 21)
On Saturday, July 21, the first tolerably cool evening in recent memory, the Cleveland Orchestra welcomed a nearly-full pavilion crowd and a sizable number of lawn-sitters to Blossom. The program was billed as ‘Mozart Under the Stars,’ two symphonies, a concerto, and an overture that were, for the most part, familiar and upbeat — a nice program for a pleasant summer evening.
The “Haffner” Symphony (#35 in D) led off the evening. Bravo to the artistic direction for programming such a complex and substantive work in the first slot: it’s when the orchestra is freshest and the ears of the listeners (at least, mine) are most attuned to the music. Perhaps it was fresh for the orchestra as well, since the program notes tell us it hasn’t been played by the Clevelanders since the 2003-04 season.
James Feddeck, who conducted the entire program, did a masterful job on this symphony. Now in his third year as assistant conductor, Feddeck has grown musically during his time with the orchestra. His command of phrasing is nuanced and detailed, and he conveys a compelling sense of the musical line and its destinations. First associate concertmaster Peter Otto, sitting in the first chair, seemed particularly sensitive to Feddeck’s impassioned gestures. The Haffner came across almost as fresh as when Mozart first sent it back to Salzburg from his new home of Vienna: full of exuberant tunes and tonal surprises. The melodic second movement delighted me, its delicate repeated high notes in the violins in lovely counterpoint with the crickets and tree frogs in the Blossom woods.
After the Haffner, principal clarinetist Franklin Cohen joined his colleagues to play the familiar Clarinet Concerto in A. He took a chamber-music approach, connecting with the string players at every opportunity and playing from the music like a chamber musician. The concerto is normally played on the A clarinet, the slightly larger cousin of the standard pit-instrument in B flat, but Cohen chose to play it on the considerably larger basset clarinet, which seems to have been Mozart’s original intention. Playing on the basset gains the soloist several important notes in the lower register, a wonderful effect for the flowing passagework that burbles through the concerto. Especially gorgeous was the Adagio movement, where Cohen’s soulful command of shape and phrase paid off (partly because Mozart’s writing — and Feddeck’s conducting — kept the orchestra out of the way). In this movement, Cohen seemed magically to pull his entrances out of nowhere, as if his notes were already sounding faraway, in some unheard universe. In the first movement, there were a few problems with the high passagework, perhaps due to moisture problems in the instrument. The final rondo with its lilting, folksy theme was played in a thoughtful manner that brought out the darker moments that occasionally shade the movement; for my taste, I would have enjoyed a slightly more upbeat approach.
The second half of the concert began curiously, with the overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio. This is theatrical Mozart, full of drums, cymbals and triangles, in the fashionable “Turkish” style. The program did not list any previous performances of it by the Cleveland Orchestra, perhaps for good reason.
The brevity of the overture left plenty of time for the great “Jupiter” Symphony (#41 in C), which ended the program. Here was God’s plenty: the orchestra reveled in the varieties of intricate musical construction and acoustic splendor that this masterpiece contains: the heroic sound of drums and trumpets, the brilliant passagework in the strings, the lovely woodwind ensembles, the constant motivic development of themes. The spectacular fourth movement — a good reason for programming the Jupiter as the closing number in a concert — itself captured the orchestra’s astonishing dynamic range, from whispers in the opening fugue themes, to sparkling scales in the violins, to stirring brassy calls to action.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 23, 2012
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