CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 1 APRIL 2010
Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major K. 320d . Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68. (William Preucil, v.; Robert Vernon, va.; Christoph von Dohnányi, cond.)
All too often, reunions are better in theory than in practice. Fans of The Andy Griffith Show might remember an episode in which Andy and Barney organize a reunion for the Mayberry Union High class of '45. The show takes a melancholy turn when Andy gets back together with his onetime girlfriend, only to receive an unpleasant reminder of why they broke up in the first place. In Tom Stoppard's radio play Where Are They Now?, the unfortunate Mr. Jenkins spends an evening reminiscing at an alumni dinner, only to realize at last that he's at a gathering for the wrong school. Then there are such TV reunions as Rescue from Gilligan's Island, A Very Brady Christmas, and Mary and Rhoda. No, I take that back. Those were bad in practice and in theory.
Thursday evening's reunion of the Cleveland Orchestra and its former Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi was, not surprisingly, a far more successful affair. The odds were, after all, stacked in Dohnányi's favor. The largest work on the evening's program was the Brahms First Symphony, and Dohnányi's 1986 recording of that symphony was one of the best of the seemingly countless compact discs he made with the Orchestra during his years here in Cleveland.
In many respects, the 2010 version of the symphony recalled that Teldec CD: relatively brisk tempos, an unfailing attention to the work's structure, and a robust orchestral sound that never obscured the music's details or inhibited its agility. Twenty-some years on, Dohnányi seems a bit more willing to indulge the music's atmospheric qualities: to evoke a sense of mystery, for example, in the fourth-movement introduction. But he retains his characteristic clear-headedness throughout. And when you reach the symphony's triumphant conclusion, you feel yourself in the presence, not of mere rhetoric, but of victory honestly achieved. In short, Dohnányi is still one of this symphony's best conductors, and his taut, exciting interpretation might well prove one of the most memorable performances of the Severance Hall season.
Mozart's K. 364 Sinfonia concertante was agreeable but less compelling: a somewhat subdued, staid reading featuring principal viola Robert Vernon and concertmaster William Preucil. There was little of the sort of lively, spontaneous-sounding interplay between soloists evident in, say, the five-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter-Yuri Bashmet version. And Vernon sounded less effortlessly elegant than he did on the recording he made with Dohnányi and the late Daniel Majeske. Thursday's performance had its virtues—chief among them a poised but never chilly account of the Andante—but it lacked the personality and sparkle of the work's most interesting recordings.
But there was no lack of sparkle in Dohnányi's opener: a spirited rendition of the Overture to Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus. Nor is it inappropriate to open this weekend's concerts with a nod to the Titan who, so the story goes, brought fire from Olympus to humankind. Eight years after relinquishing his post at the Cleveland Orchestra, Dohnányi remains abundantly capable of igniting an impressive musical blaze.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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