CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 7 MAY 2009
Franz Joseph Haydn: Concerto No. 1 in D major for Horn and Orchestra, Hob. VIId:3. Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto No. 1 in D major for Horn and Orchestra, K. 412 [K6 386b]. Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. (Richard King, h.; Jayce Ogren, cond.)
Commentators on popular culture have not always been kind to those who, like me, are addicted to the daily crossword puzzle. I recently came across an article from 1924 which judged crosswords "a primitive sort of mental exercise," a "sinful waste," and a fit subject for research by "psychologists interested in the mental peculiarities of mobs and crowds." The source? The New York Times, which in future decades would become almost as famous for its crosswords as for its news gathering.
Paul Hindemith, thinking along similar lines to that 1924 journalist, argued that the music of Schoenberg and his followers was "a mental activity scarcely superior to the invention or solution of a crossword puzzle." Yet it's Hindemith himself who has often come under fire for writing dry intellectual exercises—musical puzzles with minimal emotional content. But even Hindemith's detractors make an exception for the work on this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra program: the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, which is as lively and witty as anything in the standard orchestral repertoire.
Assistant Conductor Jayce Ogren isn't at all oblivious to the sense of fun in such passages as the second movement's Beijing-meets-Leipzig-meets-Bourbon Street fugue. But Hindemith's intricacies sometimes trip him up. This is not a performance in which you savor such details as the off-kilter five-beat brass rhythm inserted beneath a first-movement woodwind and viola melody. Such niceties are too often lost in patches of rhythmic fuzziness and orchestral imbalance.
Ogren proved a far more impressive conductor in the Sibelius Seventh Symphony, though his personal passion for this score wasn't obvious in its first couple minutes. In his brief prefatory comments Thursday, Ogren compared the start of the symphony with tectonic plates starting to shift. But his treatment of its opening was surprisingly matter-of-fact—less continents on the move than Scrabble tiles sliding into place. Within a few pages, though, Ogren had me engrossed in Sibelius' compressed but wide-ranging narrative. This wasn't a desert-island quality Seventh, but it was a promising effort by a young conductor who might have a desert-island Seventh in his future.
The remaining blanks in the weekend's program are filled by Haydn's single surviving horn concerto and Mozart's D-major concerto for the same instrument. Orchestra principal Richard King's accomplished but restrained performances seem to reverse figure and ground in these works. King's soloing is clean and understated. And Ogren's bright, energetic orchestral accompaniment stands out against King's playing rather than the other way round. King's reticence ultimately proves an asset. His sober interpretations prevent these concertos from appearing impossibly blithe—mere recreational challenges designed for what is, after all, one of the most difficult of orchestral instruments. As the great Barry Tuckwell has observed, you could make the horn better and much simpler to play...but then it would be called a trombone.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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