An Evening of Tributes
03/31/2011 - & April 1, 2
Ludwig van Beethoven: Allegretto from Symphony No.7 op. 92
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 96 (“Miracle”) in D major
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor op. 18
Antonín Dvorák: Symphony No.7 in D minor op. 70
Horacio Gutiérrez (piano)
The Cleveland Orchestra, Jirí Belohlávek (conductor)
H. Gutiérrez (© Christian Steiner)
The concerts this week were dedicated to the people of Japan who are dealing with the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes and tsunamis.
When its music director is occupied elsewhere, the Cleveland Orchestra has a varying roster of conductors; each brings unique strengths to the podium and gives the audience a glimpse at the deep talent base in Europe. Seldom have I ever seen a conductor in such command as was Jirí Bìlohlávek in this concert of haunting melodies, and not only of the orchestra but of the audience as well. He chose to open the evening with the familiar Allegretto. Although this is usually scored for a smaller orchestra, Maestro Belohlávek brought in extra strings and the full complement of woodwinds and brass, creating a huge and powerful sound, the ostinato being passed from section to section with the violas sounding particularly eloquent. While the program called for an observation of a “moment of silence at the conclusion of this music”, some people began to clap anyway, only to be hushed by the conductor’s left hand, dropped to his side, palm to the audience.
The Haydn was an unusual choice, not having been played by the Cleveland Orchestra in thirty-two years. Often with a group of this caliber, things look and sound so easy that it is easy for a conductor to remain aloof, appearing to merely set the tempo and let the musicians go about their business. This was clearly not the case with Maestro Belohlávek, who not only spun the threads of the symphony but then wove them, warp and weft, into a tapestry of incredible beauty. The string section downsized from the previous piece but the sound remained full and rich as the four movements progressed. The second movement featured brief solo lines passed back and forth between the Concertmaster, William Preucil, and the first chair second violin, Stephen Rose, and when the former came in just a hair too early on one segment, he also missed the note, hitting it flat but quickly sliding up to the correct position. That one moment aside, the group seemed to pay closer attention than usual and the result was a wonderful introduction to this symphony. I was particularly impressed with principal oboist Frank Rosenwein’s solo and Paul Yancich on the tympani.
In a salute to the 138th birthday of Sergei Rachmaninoff, the featured piece of the evening was his Piano Concerto No.2 with Cuban-American soloist, and Cleveland favorite, Horacio Gutiérrez. A small, heavy-set, round-shouldered man, Gutiérrez was an unprepossessing figure, but what sounds come from the keyboard when he played! As he struck the opening chords of the first movement, he became one with the music, sometimes turning violently red in the face and closing his eyes. In the second movement his playing was elegant and controlled, the chords building to a crescendo and then quieting, the finger work precise, close and quick, and his back and forth exchange with assistant principal clarinetist Daniel McKelway was exquisite. The strong arpeggios in the third movement let the violas take the melody which was then echoed in the horns to a solid accompaniment from the percussion section. No matter how many times I hear this beautiful sonata, I am staggered by the sheer beauty of it, and Mr. Gutiérrez’s deeply personal interpretation was impressive.
Dvorák’s romantic Symphony No.7 was the anchor selection of the concert and it was easy to see that Maestro Belohlávek had an affinity for this score. Conducting from memory, he brought all of the elements together in brisk momentum while allowing the orchestra to shine in the two central movements.
Cleveland audiences have had a long relationship with Mr. Gutiérrez; it’s to be hoped that the same will be cultivated with Maestro Belohlávek.