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Seen and Heard International Concert Review

 

Ravel, Beethoven, Dutilleux: The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst, Conductor, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California, 9 June, 2005 (BH)

 

 

Ravel: Alborada del Gracioso (1904-05; orch. 1918)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 (1799-1800)

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 2, “Le Double” (1958-59)

Ravel: Bólero (1928)

 

 

In a triumphant evening on many levels, this sold-out blockbuster was a delight from beginning to end, only confirmed by the audience reaction that only became louder after each piece ended.  In his first appearance at Disney Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst used his discreet podium style to great effect.  The two Ravel bookends were gorgeous.  The castanet-soaked Alborada launched the evening with spirit and typical Cleveland precision, and it was fun hearing it through the ears of the gentleman next to me, who had never heard this particular work, and had never been to Disney Hall.  A friend had given him the tickets as a birthday present.

 

 

On paper, the Beethoven First might have seemed a bit unadventurous, but it turned out to be immaculately balanced and delivered with white-hot intensity.  The third and fourth movements were particularly effective – the former so short that it almost ended before it began, and the latter began at such a fast pace that I thought, The ensemble can’t possibly keep up with Welser-Möst, but of course that proved to be quite untrue.  The Cleveland winds, especially the principal clarinet and oboe, played with a soulful accuracy and Beethoven-ian color that were just some of the delights of this peerless group.  Remarkable dynamic shading continued all night, with clear demarcations between ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff – I have never heard the spectrum so audible.  This is just great playing.

 

 

Last February, the orchestra brought the Dutilleux Second Symphony to Carnegie Hall, and after just a single hearing, I was impressed with the work’s imaginative construction and spectrum of instrumental effects.  Twelve soloists from the orchestra are clustered in the center of the ensemble, forming a second group – a “double” of the larger one, like a small chamber orchestra.  Dutilleux’s language often echoes Ravel and Messiaen, and there is an intriguing elastic quality, with tension created by the constant back-and-forth expansion and contraction between the larger ensemble and the more intimate musings of the smaller one.  Further, there is deep satisfaction in hearing an unfamiliar work played to the hilt after a group has had plenty of time to polish it up, and this performance seemed even more silken, coherent and persuasive.  And as a technical aside, although the Carnegie performance was magnificent, the Disney Hall acoustic showed off even more of the work’s vivid pools of color. 

 

 

I’m not as tired of Bólero as some seem to be, and always look forward to basking in it when done by a virtuoso ensemble, and lately I hear it as one of the first examples of minimalism, presaging people like Terry Riley.  The piece gets its power not only from its long crescendo, but from Ravel’s masterly orchestration, with unusual combinations of instruments delighting the ear over and over.  One particularly effective duo here was the flute and celesta, matching each other perfectly to create the otherworldly sound Ravel demands.  Joseph Lulloff, the orchestra’s sensational saxophone player (who was showcased in Ingolf Dahl’s Saxophone Concerto on some of the orchestra’s other appearances) had both tenor and soprano saxophones draped around his neck, and was delirious ecstasy, expertly characterizing each passage as if they were being played by two completely different musicians.  The Cleveland’s principal trombone, Douglas Wright, also found wry, funky humor that brought more bravos at the conclusion.  The orchestra’s two superb snare drum players – one veteran, one not so – received huge cheers when asked to stand, and outside the hall following the concert, I saw the older of the two being surrounded by fans, asking for his autograph.

 

 

With at least four ovations, Welser-Möst returned to the podium for a most surprising encore, “Nuages” from Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes.  Launched by some of the most sensuous string playing one might ever hear, the gentle ebb and flow made an eye-opening closer, a quiet island in a brilliantly played river. 

 

 

Bruce Hodges

 

 

 

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)