CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 7 JANUARY 2010
Johan Wagenaar: Cyrano de Bergerac Overture, Op. 23. Marc Neikrug: Violin Concerto. Piotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36. (William Preucil, v.; Jaap van Zweden, cond.)
You know something's entered the popular consciousness when it appears in the funny pages. Last year, Jason and Marcus, two precocious children in the strip FoxTrot, were seen eating nachos in quantities determined by the Fibonacci sequence. That, you might remember, is the list of numbers you get when you start with zero and one, then generate every subsequent number by adding the previous two: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on.
The Fibonacci numbers have a habit of popping up all over the place. I'm told, for example, that, if you count the spirals of scales on pinecones and pineapples, you'll come up with Fibonacci numbers. And the Cleveland Orchestra offers an opportunity this weekend to hear the numbers embodied in music: in the Violin Concerto of Marc Neikrug. The second movement of the concerto is structured, Neikrug has said, in units of time whose successive durations, measured in seconds, follow the Fibonacci sequence. In the right hands, there's nothing formulaic about the result. The Neikrug concerto can be a powerfully involving work: music which, both intellectually and emotionally, rewards repeated hearings.
Unfortunately, concertmaster William Preucil's reading of the concerto on Thursday evening didn't match the high standards set by the one recording I know: a Hessischer Rundfunk Orchestra performance with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist and Neikrug himself at the helm. Zukerman is spontaneous and conversational at the concerto's start, sultry at the return of the opening motif eight minutes in, passionate in his solos toward the end of the first movement. Preucil, by contrast, sounded dry and staid throughout. It's my sense that this music benefits enormously from a degree of interpretive Romanticism that was absent here. If its emotional narrative is obscured, the concerto sounds like a set of abstract quantities being arbitrarily moved about.
The color and energy that were missing from the concerto seemed distributed instead between the remaining works on the program. Guest conductor Jaap van Zweden delivered a bright-hued, sprightly version of Johan Wagenaar's Cyrano de Bergerac overture. And his Tchaikovsky Fourth was kaleidoscopically vibrant and consistently engaging. Particularly in the first movement, van Zweden took intriguing and carefully calculated risks, occasionally slackening the tension to go in pursuit of an interesting orchestral color or to highlight an instrumental line that doesn't typically sound so clearly. But when the music depended on it, as in the first movement coda or the climactic brass exchanges just before the fourth-movement coda, van Zweden didn't hesitate to use the full firepower at his disposal.
Thinking about that FoxTrot strip reminds me of another comic: an installment of Bill Watterson's marvelous Calvin and Hobbes in which the impish Calvin, learning about Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, gleefully savors the idea of cannons being fired inside a concert hall. Van Zweden might not have any actual artillery at his disposal, but his Tchaikovsky Fourth is explosive just the same.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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