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Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Very Russian Evening With the Cleveland Orchestra

Concert Review

Posted By on Sun, May 5, 2019 at 3:52 PM

click to enlarge Violinist Vadim Gluzman playing with the Cleveland Orchestra at a previous performance. - ROGER MASTROIANNI, COURTESY OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA
  • Roger Mastroianni, Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra
  • Violinist Vadim Gluzman playing with the Cleveland Orchestra at a previous performance.
Coming into the final stretch of its 101st season, the Cleveland Orchestra pulled out all the stops at Severance Hall last night with an evening full of Russian delights.

Only recently returning from a month-long tour of Asia, the place was pretty much packed with people clamoring to catch the final performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto as well as Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11: The Year 1905.



Franz Welser-Möst had the night off, with 73-year-old Russian conductor Michail Jurowski making his U.S. debut.

Leading the orchestra mostly while perched atop a high stool, it took a few minutes into the first movement of the Tchaikovsky for Jurowski and violin soloist Vadim Gluzman to settle into a tempo. But once clicked in, the piece was as stunning and visceral as any live rendition.

The work has everything: Romance, dynamite technicality and meaty melodies that stick in the head well after the performance is finished. As with all concertos, this one is all about the orchestra supporting the soloist. And support was more than given as Gluzman gloriously noodled around on his 1690 "ex-Leopold Auer" Stradivari violin.

During moments when the soloist wasn't playing, Gluzman seemed somewhat  uncomfortable trying to sway along to the orchestra. But when putting bow to string, the Israeli violinist was perfectly at ease showing off the fruits of gazillion hours of practicing. His cadenza in the first movement was especially entrancing, while the slower second movement as a whole showed his heart on his sleeve. The dynamic third movement left us wanting the piece to go on forever (as multiple curtain calls and an encore proved).

For the second half of the performance, the stage was far more full with instrumentalists, including two harps, a celesta, full woodwind section and all the bells and whistles pulled out in the percussion section.

Completed in 1957, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11: The Year 1905 was written as a sort of musical description of the Russian Revolution.

The hour-long four-movement work (which features no breaks between movements) is grand and cinematic. It starts out eerily and quiet and builds to something powerful and majestic. The composer is never afraid of clashing notes in his pieces, and last night, the orchestra dug into the dissonance making the resolutions that much more affecting.

While Jurowski lacked the bombast of some over-the-top conductors, he led with authority bringing out beautifully contrasting tones from his players.

This season hasn't been the easiest, with some very public firings, but last night, the Cleveland Orchestra proved that no matter the drama behind the scenes, the music never falters.

The Cleveland Orchestra plays through the beginning of June at Severance Hall. Check out its entire summer concert series at Blossom Music Center right here.

Stray Observations:
- Following the first movement of the wild violin concerto, some cheered loudly because it felt right, while others remained rigid in their knowledge that clapping then is not traditionally done. As Scene has stated in the past, clapping inbetween movements of pieces should absolutely be allowed when the audience is so moved. We only continue to alienate classical music newbies with such stringent rules.

-To the woman right in front of me scrolling Facebook and sending text messages on her phone throughout much of the performance: It's too bad the orchestra wasn't interesting enough for you. Next time, go home.
-That English horn solo though in the final movement of the Shostakovich. Robert Walters deserved all those cheers.

The entire viola section especially held their own in the Shostakovich, too.

-Wonderful to see a woman filling the concertmaster role at last night's performance. Jung-Min Amy Lee lead with grace and agility.

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