CIM Orchestra with Rimbo Wong
at Severance Hall (September 12)
Severance Hall had its usual glow last Wednesday, when Carl Topilow, director of the Cleveland Institute of Music orchestral program, presented a remarkable concert. All three works played were true masterworks—two from the Twentieth Century and one from the Nineteenth. It is difficult to choose the highpoint, because all three pieces were beautifully performed.
The Ernest Bloch Suite for Viola and Orchestra (1919) is a rarely-programmed gem. Bloch was at the height of his compositional powers, having composed Schelomo, his Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, two years earlier. He intended the new Suite to be an exotic, imaginary visit to Java, Borneo, and Sumatra, and planned to call the four movements In the Jungle; Grotesques; Nocturne; and The Land of the Sun. He ultimately abandoned the titles as too limiting to the imagination.
Soloist for the evening was young undergraduate Zsche Chuang Rimbo Wong, whose prodigious technique and powerful ability to project was as stunning as her expressive playing. Her surprisingly extensive experience included serving as Principal Viola of the Canton Symphony, and similarly at festivals in Japan, the Netherlands and the United States.
The Suite had an unusually large and masterful orchestration for a concertato composition. Not once did the full woodwind, brass, percussion and strings eclipse Wong’s full rich sonorities. The introduction began with a lyrical viola parlando that served to display her gorgeous tone. A lovely dialogue between English horn and B flat clarinet led to an accelerando with expressive exchanges between clarinet and the soloist. The textures ranged from delicate passages for solo viola and two harps, to powerful orchestral tuttis. Also excellent were the muted brass, a beautiful horn solo, and an interesting sonorous close that omitted the strings entirely.
The second movement, Allegro ironico, alternated frenetic pace with slow, dark sections. Despite a few ragged orchestral attacks, the performance was tuneful and excellent. Especially notable were a long held pedal note in the four horns, muted trumpet passages, some enchanting percussion sounds, and continued brilliant playing by the soloist.
The third movement, Lento, began with a dreamy viola solo accompanied by strange, dark, low-register harp sounds. Cyclical reminiscences of first-movement themes followed two new motives.
Bloch described the fourth movement, Molto vivo, as “probably the most cheerful thing I ever wrote.” This ebullient A-B-A form begins with pentatonic material. Charming rapid clarinet arpeggios accompanied the viola solo softly. The more lyrical middle section returned to themes from the first and third movements. The composer’s imaginatively varied and skillful scoring and Wong’s and the Orchestra’s exceptional playing made the fourth movement performance unique.
Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (1943) is one of the greatest Twentieth Century orchestral works. After his arrival from Europe, Bartók struggled to make ends meet, and this, as well as his deteriorating physical condition, made life very difficult. By 1943 his modest folk music research stipend from Columbia University had run out. Leukemia had begun to afflict him in 1940, and now seemed to be a terminal condition. His old friends, violinist Joseph Szigetti and conductor Fritz Reiner, suggested that Sergei Koussevitzky commission an orchestral work in memory of his wife, Natalie.
Koussevitzky dropped in to a New York Hospital where Bartók was undergoing tests and surprised him with the commission. Bartók would only accept half of the fee, as he was not sure he would live to fulfill it. The commission and an ASCAP-sponsored stay at a sanatorium in Saranac Lake in upstate New York enabled Bartók to find strength to work “practically night and day.”
The five-movement Concerto was an instant success and led to interest in his other works. The first and last movements are in free sonata form. The large complement of over 70 strings in the CIM Orchestra did justice to the work’s power and scope. Lovely first-movement solos in flute, oboe, and English horn adorned the orchestral fabric.
The second movement, Game of Pairs, as Bartók explained, “consists of independent short sections by wind instruments in five pairs (bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes and muted trumpets).” After a short chorale for brass and snare drum, the first section returns with elaboration. The performance by all wind pairs and accompanying strings and percussion was consistently excellent.
The third movement, Elegy, one of Bartók’s most beautiful night music pieces, was also well played. The dark string basses opened, and the rest of the strings entered in turn. Lovely flute and clarinet arpeggios; harp glissandos; and expressive solos in trumpet, English horn, and piccolo adorned the mysterious movement.
The fourth movement, Interrupted Intermezzo, had the following form: ABA — Interruption — BA. In the interruption Bartók parodied Shostakovich’s German march first theme from Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad,” which was, itself, originally intended as a mocking paraphrase on a song from Lehár’s The Merry Widow. The CIM Orchestra played this catchy, exciting movement with flair, with fine viola-section playing, and an expressive clarinet solo.
The fifth movement, Finale: Pesante—Presto, was enlivened by two fugatos that helped propel this wonderful piece to its rousing conclusion.
The concert began with a fine performance of Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture (1844). Especially notable were the English horn solos, the lively carnival theme, and wonderful ensemble playing by all sections. The five-part percussion section played well and all the orchestral tuttis sparkled.
Click here to comment on this article. All comments will be moderated by the editorial staff.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com September 18, 2012
Click here for a printable version of this article.