Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom: all-Tchaikovsky
with Vassily Sinaisky and Daniel Müller-Schott (July 14)
by Daniel Hathaway
Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky celebrated his Cleveland Orchestra debut at Blossom on Saturday evening, July 14, with an all-Tchaikovsky program in partnership with the brilliant German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. Had Tchaikovsky, like Mozart, perished at 36, all three of the works on the program would already have been completed, though in early versions that the ever-insecure composer — or in the case of the Rococo Variations, a persistent performer — would extensively rework at a later date.
The Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture was a project suggested to the 29-year old Tchaikovsky by Mily Balakirev. Something of a control freak, Balakirev thoughtfully drew up detailed plans for the suggested composition, which Tchaikovsky dutifully followed. He revised the work after its premiere in 1870, also in accordance with his mentor's wishes, then again a decade later when he was more sure of his independent stature as a composer.
The overture is richly dramatic, but Sinaisky, who is music director of the Bolshoi Theatre, wisely underplayed its emotional flamboyance, even keeping the famous love theme from boiling over. He paced the opening chorale briskly and stirred up a thrilling Montagues vs. Capulets feud. Like Balakirev, Sinaisky had a master plan for the piece, and his interpretation was logical and nuanced. Conducting without a stick, Sinaisky shaped musical events with broad strokes and tiny gestures — some so subtle that a few attacks were imprecise — but aside from that, the orchestral played with rich tone and fine ensemble.
The Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra was premiered by Tchaikovsky's Moscow Conservatory faculty colleague Wilhelm Fitzenhagen in 1877, then cut and pasted by the soloist into a new version which has found a permanent place in the cello repertory, never mind Tchaikovsky's objections. Another reworking might solve some persistent issues with its form and transitions, but all of that was forgotten on Saturday evening during Daniel Müller-Schott's riveting performance. Sinaisky pared the string sections down to Mozartean scale, giving Müller-Schott the opportunity to project above the ensemble without pushing his tone. And what a glorious tone: focused, rich and even from top to bottom of his range, with that agreeably nasal quality that gives the instrument its resonance and carrying power.
The Rococo Variations can be nervous-making for the audience. Will the cellist nail all of those high notes without falling off the fingerboard? Will dozens of subtle transitions line up between soloist and orchestra? Will you even get to hear the cello at certain points? It's a tribute to Müller-Schott's technical command and musicality that the audience could sit back and listen to these variations with pure enjoyment. The orchestra was finely tuned in to every detail in the solo line. Even the Blossom aviary got into the act, one bird consistently answering the soloist's high trills with perfectly timed filigrees of his own. The cadenza was astonishing. The large audience loved the performance and gave Müller-Schott an enthusiastic ovation.
While “Reveries of a Winter Journey” were probably far from the minds of the Blossom audience on a fine, humid summer evening, the choice of Tchaikovsky's first symphony, “Winter Dreams”, (from 1866) was a fine way to bring the concert to a close. Conceived on a classical scale within a proscribed emotional range, the piece sounds like its composer minus the angst and overwrought emotion of many of his later symphonic works, even though he revised it in 1867 and once again in 1874. Lovely flute, oboe and bassoon solos adorned the “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists” slow movement. Horns and timpani added special moments of their own. The scherzo was gentle and charming, the finale crisp and exciting. As the symphony unfolded, Sinaisky's conducting gestures became more and more abstract — if not mysterious — but The Cleveland Orchestra took its own bearings, played with expressive discipline and brought the piece to a precise and exultant conclusion.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 17, 2012
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