Same music, different experiences at Cleveland Orchestra's
two concerts in Miami
Zachary Lewis / The Plain Dealer
January 30, 2011
MIAMI, FLA. – It's amazing, sometimes, how different the Cleveland Orchestra can sound playing the same music, and the group's performances here last weekend were a real case in point.
In many ways, in fact, the experiences Friday and Saturday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where the orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Most have begun their fifth annual residency, stood in sharp contrast to each other. Yet while both evenings hovered on a high artistic level, neither one alone achieved the ideal.
Worth noting, too, is the stark difference between the orchestra's fundamental sound here and at home. Just as South Florida is sunnier than Northeast Ohio, the Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall is dramatically brighter and more reverberant than the lustrous, deeply resonant Severance Hall.
Even the audience here behaves differently. Where listeners at Severance Hall are more or less quiet, here the crowds were surprisingly noisy, prone to tardiness, loud rustling, and unfortunately-timed fits of coughing. Friday's bunch was unsettled enough to delay the performance. Yet those same patrons also demanded an encore, the "Traumerei am Kamin" from Strauss's "Intermezzo," whereas those on Saturday did not.
Consistently impressive and the pinnacle of both evenings were the orchestra's presentations of "Ein Heldenleben." Although they varied in terms of interpretation, the two performances of Strauss's last tone poem were little short of brilliant.
Welser-Most's affection for the piece was evident both nights, as was the orchestra's relish of the rich, satisfying material contained in such scenes as the opening "Hero" portrait and the concluding "Withdrawal" music. Certainly, "Heldenleben" is one of those scores that never wears out its welcome.
It's a good thing, too. By the time the orchestra and Welser-Most conclude their current U.S. tour with a performance in Newark, New Jersey, they will have played the piece 9 times in recent weeks, not counting rehearsals.
Where the performances here diverged most widely was in the solo portions. On Friday, for instance, concertmaster William Preucil portrayed a "Companion" more stable and openly ardent than Saturday's more whimsical, unpredictable character. Similarly, Saturday's reading of the "Adversaries" by the woodwinds was noticeably more vicious.
Certain aspects of the performances in Miami only improved from one night to the next. Patrons Saturday heard a "Withdrawal" more cohesive and smoothly tapered those who came Friday, just as listeners who like their "Battle" movement as stormy as possible probably would have preferred Saturday's account, even as both performances had the floor shaking.
Deciding between the orchestra's two performances of Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" is a bit more challenging. Both were shimmering spells, and principal flutist Joshua Smith was at his enchanting best on both occasions. Friday's, though, benefited from greater delicacy and a seductive hint of hesitation.
Strangely, the only weak element on the Miami program was pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard's reading of the Schumann Piano Concerto. Both his performances Friday and Saturday seemed cool and somewhat perfunctory, and contained wrong notes.
Still, even on off nights, Aimard has the power to compel, and his performances here were hardly without their charms. His Schumann may have been short on emotional warmth, but on measures of contrapuntal clarity and rhapsodic sweep, it was second to none. Nor do many interpreters probe the slow Intermezzo with comparable sensitivity or attention to detail.
Give Aimard credit, too, for accompanying the orchestra on its entire two-week tour, during which he's alternating between performances of the Schumann Concerto and Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2. That's no small feat. The difference between those two scores is about as dramatic as the contrast between the weather in South Florida and the snowy forecast for the orchestra's next stop, Ann Arbor.
original story source: http://www.cleveland.com/musicdance/index.ssf/2011/01/same_music_different_experienc.html