| Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Cleveland Orchestra 02
Edinburgh International Festival
|Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH1 2EA, United Kingdom|
Wednesday 22-Aug-12 08:00pm
Cleveland Orchestra 02
Franz Welser-Möst concludes the Cleveland Orchestra’s account of Smetana’s Má Vlast with the powerful final movements, which depict the glories of Bohemian pride in music of blazing defiance. Shostakovich wrote his seldom-heard Symphony No 6 just after the dark years of Stalin’s purges, and the jollity of its conclusion makes a startling contrast with its haunting opening. Compelling German pianist Lars Vogt is the soloist in Lutoslawski’s Piano Concerto, a piece full of energy and shimmering colours that proudly displays the inspiration its composer took from Chopin and Rachmaninov. It’s the perfect showpiece for Vogt’s combination of muscularity and refinement, and for the remarkable warmth and clarity of the Cleveland Orchestra’s sound. ‘The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the greatest in the world – the playing is perfection.’ The Guardian Supported by Edinburgh International Festival Friends and Patrons Performance of Lutoslawski supported by Adam Mickiewicz Institute
Image credit: Roger Mastroianni
The items in the Cleveland Orchestra's second programme shared one feature; unusual form with regard to the number of movements. Having played the first four movements of Smetana's Má Vlast the previous evening, here they presented the remaining two. And although the playing was commendable, with warmth, clarity and impressive use of dynamics, little of the notion of terror or violence came across. Students of composition could certainly learn how easily dated the extensive use of diminished chords can sound, when employed in the hope of drama. The more pastoral Blaník, depicting the mountain, Velky Blaník, where Hussites took refuge after defeat, was much more enjoyable. The playing in the lively central section was impressively energetic.
The conventional three-movement concerto form was eschewed by Lutosławski in his 1988 Piano Concerto. Listeners without a programme could be forgiven for perceiving it a single movement work as the pauses between the four movements are short. However, there is sufficient contrast for the term movements to apply. Written thirty-four years after the Concerto for Orchestra which had been played the previous evening, the change in compositional style was clear. Gone was the reliance on folk tunes. The opening reminded me of the chirpiness of Messiaen and the lightness of the orchestral contribution to this feel was impressive.
Soloist Lars Vogt looked like he was having the time of his life. Despite being a technically very demanding work, it was joy rather than struggle that came across. In the second movement, which has a 'moto perpetuo' character, Vogt really seemed to be enjoying the chase. Racing up the keyboard towards the high phrase endings, his left foot would leave the floor as he committed his body weight to the final chord. Another nice physical touch involved his left arm mirroring the right as it reach out hurriedly to turn the page. The pages of his part were extensive landscape rather than portrait, and so perhaps you can imagine the reach. If there was a sense of struggle in this piece it was woven into the structure of the finale, poetically entitled 'crotchet = c84'. Lutosławski's trademark 'chain' structure - where the beginnings and endings of the solo and orchestral material do not coincide - lent a great sense of tension to the movement, and even more release when all involved came together at the end. Those who worry for the fate of contemporary music would have experienced a fillip at the uproarious cheers which followed the final chord. Vogt's joy had infected us all.
One of music's mysteries is that the truly bleak can be as engaging as the effervescently happy - even more so in some cases. The opening movement of Shostakovich's 1939, three-movement Symphony No 6 in B minor emits a desolate tension which lasts for more than half the work. Yet I, for one, was in no hurry for this music to hasten to more optimistic pastures and my neighbour in the Usher Hall singled out this movement for praise at the end of the concert. Tremendous pacing is required to pull off such a movement and the Cleveland Orchestra exhibited a masterly touch.
On the heels of such unremitting barrenness, the following allegro seemed to dance with unexpected joy and the woodwind section were excellent in turning the mood around very quickly. However, it wouldn't be Shostakovich if a bitter-sweet character didn't soon creep in and this change in disposition was excellently portrayed. By the time the Cleveland's heavy brass kicked in, something diabolic seemed to be in the air. However, the mood lightened again thanks to beautifully delicate strings and woodwind.
The burlesque finale was a great finish to the concert with plenty of action for the percussion section which had stood out in both concerts, ever watchful and ready to explode with, for example, three essential xylophone strikes. And Shostakovich must surely be a favourite with snare specialists. In the sustained applause that followed, it appeared as though Franz Welser-Möst had forgotten the percussionists. This was however simply stagecraft. In the penultimate curtain call, at a sweep of the conductor's arm, the six-strong section rose to their feet and the crowd erupted.