Cleveland Philharmonic with
violist Joanna Patterson Zakany (October 21)
Northeast Ohio supports an unusually robust classical music scene, including a remarkable number of avocational orchestras. Two of them found themselves playing virtually across the street from each other in Parma last Sunday afternoon, October 21, the Parma Symphony at Valley Forge High School and the Cleveland Philharmonic in the Western Campus Theater of Cuyahoga Community College. I attended the CPO event, conducted by Victor Liva, which featured The Cleveland Orchestra's Joanna Patterson Zakany in William Walton's Viola Concerto and the orchestra itself in Gustav Holst's The Planets. The theater was nearly sold out for the event.
Though not the originally-intended soloist, Paul Hindemith played the premiere of Walton's concerto in London in October of 1929. Generally calm and lyrical, it begins in time-honored British pastoral style with wind solos over muted strings before the soloist enters and eventually stirs things up a bit. An arresting mini-cadenza is backed by a timpani roll. Flashes of Waltonian splendor occasionally break out in the second movement. A big orchestral fugue is at the center of the third before everything subsides into a reflection of the opening of the concerto with its harmonic vacillations between major and minor versions of themes. Joanna Patterson Zakany played with flawless intonation and a warm, singing tone that carried nicely over the orchestra, thanks also to fine dynamic control by Victor Liva. Wind solos were lovingly crafted — especially the bassoon — and there was a special moment in the third movement involving the solo viola and bass clarinet.
Although Gustav Holst's The Planets was meant to evoke astrology rather than astronomy, one way or another, it's definitely music of the spheres and presenters have been eager to provide it with visual representations of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, each of which gets a separate movement in Holst's score. The Cleveland Orchestra's recent performances were enhanced by projected images from NASA, the Cleveland Philharmonic's by a slideshow developed in collaboration with the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.
While NASA's images were purely visual, the slides last Sunday afternoon were more educational, giving out a lot of information about the heavenly bodies we count as our neighbors in the cosmos, though sometimes text was difficult to read. I don't know anyone who will confess to being able to watch visuals and listen to music at the same time with equal acuity — you go back and forth between them or eventually shut one or the other out entirely. I decided to shut my eyes and concentrate on the music.
The Cleveland Philharmonic gave a splendid reading of Holst's colorful and evocative score. Victor Liva held things together masterfully and musically, and everyone rose to the occasion to the point where you could often forget you were listening to a community orchestra. If Mars was paced a bit too quickly to make its progress truly ominous and inexorable, if other movements might have been more laid-back and the big tune in Jupiter spun out with more British gravitas, these are quibbles. Intonation was good, wind solos were accomplished and reliably played, the bassoons were wonderful in Uranus, and the only thing you could have wished for from the strings is that they might be more numerous to balance the winds and brass. String players who are interested in playing in a fine community group should get in touch with the Cleveland Philharmonic.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com October 25, 2012
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