Review: Cleveland Women’s Orchestra's 80th Anniversary Concert at Severance Hall

By Daniel Hathaway

Violinist Michael Ferri, who played the Bruch concerto with the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra in 2012, returned to help celebrate the 80th anniversary of that ensemble with the Tchaikovsky concerto on Sunday, April 26 in Severance Hall. Under the direction of Robert Cronquist, Ferri, only one-quarter as old as the CWO, gave a fresh and invigorating reading of the concerto that peeled layers of accrued varnish off the work, making it sound like the musical equivalent of a newly-cleaned painting.

That took place after intermission. To begin the program, Cronquist led the ensemble — all-female except the conductor and two members of the bass section — in a spirited reading of Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon Overture, graced by lovely horn and clarinet solos from Erica Bartik and Pam Elliot, respectively.

We’re so accustomed to hearing only Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, that we forget there are other versions. Thirty-eight for orchestra, in fact, including orchestrations (or compilations) by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Leopold Stokowski, and Leonard Slatkin; and reworkings for salon orchestra; for strings, piano and percussion; for orchestra and chorus; and even one that orchestrates each piece in the style of a different composer (including Britten, Wagner, Bartók, and Respighi).

Cronquist chose to play a version begun in 1886 by Mikail Tushmalov, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, that omits every promenade after the first, and leaves out three of Mussorgsky’s original movements — “Gnomus,” “Tuileries,” and “Bydlo” — though Cronquist added his own orchestration of the latter on Sunday.

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