Thu 5/11, Sat 5/12 & Sun 5/14
The Cleveland Orchestra this week featured two composers who reached back in time and came up with something new.
Other attempts to extract a theme for last week’s program are best left to marketing professionals. For anyone who didn’t need their music packaged like a high school prom, this week’s program was a fun treat for the musically curious.
Franz Welser-Möst deserves credit for choosing Hans Werner Henze’s rarely heard “Il Vitalino Raddoppiato” from among more standard works in Julia Fischer’s repertoire list. But the piece is a tame, well-behaved outlier among Henze’s otherwise craggy oeuvre.
“Tame” shouldn’t be confused with “easy,” though. Henze’s protracted chaconne makes unbelievable demands of the soloist, requiring precarious leaps across strings and 30 minutes of nearly continuous playing (though Fischer told me she can do it in 28 minutes).
Fischer, in only her second public performance of the piece, performed as though Henze had written his variations just for her. She projected entire phrases of harmonics with total clarity and played the extended double stop phrases better than if two violinists had split the job.
There are plenty of pieces that infuse old with new: Arnold Schoenberg’s “Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra,” Jörg Widmann’s “Flûte en Suite” (which Cleveland Orchestra principal flutist Joshua Smith premiered in 2014), and Daron Hagen’s third symphony are a few examples.
Sometimes it’s tempting to lace a performance with twee inflections, as if to say, “See what they did there?” Fischer was totally above that. She performed Henze’s unpredictable extrapolations of Tomaso Vitali’s tune with a coolness that left no room for affected cheekiness.
The orchestra provided an airtight dotted-rhythm accompaniment packed with all the gravitas of a Baroque overture. At other times, they were an expressionist foil to Fischer’s florid lines. Horn, flute and viola solos gave Fischer a chance to recover and freshened an orchestral palette that, as the piece went on, bordered on stale.
After intermission, the seriousness of Henze dissipated and “that merry wanderer of the night” took over. Mendelssohn’s overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream took a few moments to settle as Welser-Möst seemed to want a faster tempo than the orchestra would agree to. Thankfully, the orchestra won.
The woodwinds and horns were the stars of the second half. They meshed and played off each other with the adroitness of a woodwind quintet. In the famous nocturne that closes the third act of Shakespeare’s play, Czech horn player Kateřina Javůrková — all of 25 years old — was utterly flawless.
Actor Itay Tiran was a great choice to perform Shakespeare’s lines. He shifted capably from a waggish Puck to a Mrs Doubtfire-esque Titania and everyone in between. Tiran’s tastefully punchy delivery made Shakespeare’s rhymes even funnier. I’d pay good money to see Tiran do the entire comedy as a one-man show.
The choruses were beautifully sung by members of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus. Soloists Anya Matanovic and Emily Fons were sublime but struggled to project from the back half of the stage. Several notes, particularly in the fairies’ lullaby for Titania, were ghosted from lack of support.
The evening ended with a brief coda celebrating the 100th birthday of Clara T. Rankin, who serves on the orchestra’s Board of Trustees. Rankin was serenaded on stage by the orchestra with Franz Schubert’s “An die Musik” and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.”