CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 19 JANUARY 2006
William Walton: Scapino—A Comedy Overture. Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, op. 35. Sir Edward Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55. (Janine Jansen, v.; Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.)
Like his fellow characters Pagliaccio, Scaramuccio, and Pulcinella, Scapino successfully made the jump from Italian improvisational theater to classical-music immortality. In the world of the commedia dell'arte, he is a featherbrained valet: habitually frivolous, often dishonest, always effervescent. Sound judgment is not among his gifts. Nor was it a characteristic, it seems, of at least one of his interpreters. The actor Camerani, famed for his portrayals of Scapino, reportedly succumbed to acute indigestion after stuffing himself with delicacies in the wee hours of the night: a rare case of death by foie gras.
Scapino's name comes from the Italian scappare, "to flee," and it seems appropriate that conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Cleveland Orchestra, about to flee the Cleveland winter for a short Florida-Georgia tour, are taking William Walton's Scapino: A Comedy Overture on the road with them. On Thursday night's preview of the tour repertoire, Scapino was in fine fettle. Ashkenazy's version of the Overture zipped along at an ambitious clip. With its bright colors and glossy sheen, this performance of Walton's music could almost have been mistaken for the score of a madcap sixties movie.
Its ebullient character was a natural foil for Janine Jansen's unforgettable performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Jansen's music-making was also a triumph of personality, but it was a personality of a very different kind. Jansen has the finely calibrated senses of a great actor. Even when her playing was of necessity declamatory—as in the double-forte chords preceding Tchaikovsky's cadenza in the opening movement—it seemed expressive of inner determination rather than simple bluster. The strength of her musical personality allowed Jansen to stretch this concerto to its musical limits while maintaining its tension. It was almost alarming to realize, at moments in the first movement when the soloist fell silent, how little this performance relied on forward momentum, how much on introspective depth. The dramatic extremes to which she pushed the second movement, the near halt she hazarded in the first episode of the concluding Rondo, would have seemed affectations in the hands of a lesser player. Instead, her performance was mesmerizing.
Ashkenazy's reading of Elgar's First Symphony, which concluded the evening, could not hope to generate equal audience enthusiasm, though in most respects it was completely satisfactory. One might have questioned the tameness of the opening movement Allegro and some quickly passing shadows of rhythmic shapelessness.
But the theater-themed opening of this program reminds one that there are worse fates that can befall the live performer than such minor glitches. The story is told of another actor—a man of large appetites, not unlike the unfortunate Camerani—who gorged himself on savory treats just prior to a performance. As soon as he stepped in front of the footlights, he crashed straight through the floor. Not to worry—it's unlikely to happen again. They say it was just a stage he was going through.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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