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Cleveland Orchestra, Welser-Most present dramatic account of Berlioz masterpiece
What: Franz Welser-Most conducts Berlioz, Strauss and Hindemith.
When: If you weren't there with Music Cleveland! last night, you missed an amazing performance!
Where: Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: Music Cleveland! Discounts
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012, 12:18 PM Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012, 12:38 PM
By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
Leading the second subscription program of the new season, Franz Welser-Most conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in works by Berlioz, Strauss and Hindemith. French music not being one of his priorities, Franz Welser-Most wouldn't appear to be the conductor of choice for Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique." And yet that's exactly what he may be, judging by his performance of the work with the Cleveland Orchestra Thursday night at Severance Hall. Visceral and highly evocative, his reading was that of an artist who not only cares about the piece but also has something to express with it.
Perhaps surprise is unwarranted. Berlioz penned one of the most dramatic works in the symphonic arena, a piece with a rich extra-musical dimension that played to Welser-Most's theatrical bent and allowed him to craft a sort of miniature opera.
"Reveries," the opening movement, got things off to a feverish start, with the conductor insisting on gossamer textures and emotional restraint. This modesty, however, gradually eroded as the "idee fixe" took over and contrasts grew wider, the sense of urgency greater.
Even further up Welser-Most's alley was the "Ball" sequence, a grand dance he took as an occasion for virtuoso display. Where some emphasize this music's lavish quality, he opted compellingly for speed and elegance, suggesting a protagonist almost delirious with delight.
Fits of coughing by the audience unfortunately interfered with the call-and-response effects of "In the Country." Still, the orchestra -- no longer seated on risers, as per recent orders from the music director -- proved victorious, holding a vivid and resolute course.
Two sides of Berlioz fairly competed for dominance in the final scenes: his theatricality and genius as a composer for orchestra. Again and again in Thursday's performance, the sheer brilliance of the instrumentation came close to overshadowing the music's larger narrative.
Bassoons, trumpets and the low strings conspired for a chilling "March to the Scaffold." Further tipping the scale in that fearful direction were the swift tempo and exaggerated contrasts enforced by Welser-Most, never one to shy away from bluntness in the name of drama.
All of this, though, was merely prelude to the gripping finale, "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath." From the expressive tolling of bells to stern pronouncements by two tubas and the whipping up of a veritable tornado by the strings, the scene reached and then leapt off a terrifying peak.
One great performance Thursday that came as no shock was that of principal oboist Frank Rosenwein in the Strauss Oboe Concerto, a late work revealing the composer in an unusually sanguine mood, looking back to Mozart and his predecessors.
Like Strauss himself, Rosenwein was in rare -- or rather typical -- form, exhibiting the mellifluous tone, bubbly animation and seamless phrasing of an artist with huge lungs and an even larger sense of musicality. Matching him at every step was Welser-Most, who supplied his colleague with nimble, propulsive accompaniment.
Hindemith's Kammermusik No. 1, a short, boisterous work for small ensemble, opened the night in lively fashion. Welser-Most could have loosened his grip on the Finale, but elsewhere, and all the way through the Berlioz, the playing sparkled.
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