CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 27 APRIL 2006
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201. Stephen Paulus: Violin Concerto. Edward Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra, Op. 36 ("Enigma"). (William Preucil. v.; Donald Runnicles, cond.)
Just over a week ago, one of the world's great man-made puzzles came a shade closer to being solved. It's a coded message carved into copper as part of "Kryptos"—a sculpture at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Three of the message's four sections were deciphered years ago; the fourth remains a mystery. But on April 19th the sculptor pointed out an error in the accepted solution of the second section—a clarification which might help enthusiasts to decode the fourth. What will the message reveal? Some say the location of a hidden object on Agency grounds. For now, only the sculptor and some folks at the C.I.A. know the answer.
It's the sort of puzzle that might have intrigued Edward Elgar, who was himself the author of a famous encrypted passage—the so-called "Dorabella Cipher"&,dash;that to this day resists being cracked. Dora Penny, the original recipient of that cipher, is in turn one of the characters portrayed in Elgar's best known puzzle: the "Enigma" Variations. And, of the three pieces on Thursday evening's Cleveland Orchestra program, Elgar's masterwork was the most effective showpiece for guest conductor Donald Runnicles. From its first bars, paced to avoid any hint of excess gravity, Runnicles' reading of the Variations evinced an uncommon vigor. Variation four was absolutely ferocious, number seven crisp and dramatic. The brassy largamente interjections in the work's finale could have been shaped more dramatically, but by and large this was an impressive and confident performance.
Prior to the Elgar, concertmaster William Preucil took a turn at center stage with a fluent rendition of the Stephen Paulus Violin Concerto. Preucil, the work's dedicatee, had recorded the Concerto exactly eighteen years and one day before, with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In its outer movements, Thursday evening's performance was a little less convincing than that CD. The fault was not Preucil's. Runnicles' accompaniment emphasized color over precision. And while one welcomed the brighter-hued contributions of harp, piano, and percussion, the orchestral backdrop at other times seemed disconcertingly blurry. Thursday's middle movement, by contrast, sounded more intensely committed than the 1988 recording. There's plenty of room, in short, for fans of the work to quibble: those who don't know the Concerto should simply be glad of a chance to hear this attractive, audience friendly piece.
The version of Mozart's Symphony No. 29 that opened the evening was amiable but unenlightening. At a few points orchestral balances seemed, at least from my seat, off kilter. For about four bars toward the end of the first-movement exposition, for example, the violas were inexplicably loud. Was it a trick of acoustics—something that might have sounded different a few rows away? I've got two weeks before the next subscription concert to consider that particular puzzle—that, along with the inscription on the Kryptos sculpture and the Dorabella Cipher. Then again, maybe I'll just stick to the daily crossword.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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