Cleveland Orchestra with James Feddeck,
John Clouser (Thursday Oct. 4) and D'Drum (Friday Oct. 5)
To watch assistant conductor James Feddeck's eloquent body language last Thursday and Friday evenings at Severance Hall was to comprehend the character and texture of the five very different pieces played on the two programs. He brought Mendelssohn's charming Midsummer Night's Dream entr'actes to life with warm, expansive gestures, honed his beat in close for the smaller orchestration and leaner textures of Mozart's Bassoon Concerto, waxed subtle and poetic in Berlioz's Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet, and opened his arms wide to embrace the sensual exuberance of Ravel's second Daphnis and Chloé suite. On Friday evening, the first in this season's Fridays @ 7 series, Mendelssohn and Ravel came back for a second round, then Feddeck morphed into something more like a traffic cop for Stewart Copeland's Gamelan D'Drum, a role in which he usefully but revealingly settled for marking beats and giving cues. More about that later.
The Scherzo, Intermezzo, Nocturne and Wedding March from Mendelssohn's incidental music to Shakespeare's enchanted play usually appear as part of a suite that begins with his Overture, but these four movements work well as a suite of their own. The Scherzo was mellow as well as piquant and sensibly paced so Joshua Smith's fine flute solo toward the end had room to breathe. Feddeck's urgent approach to the Intermezzo made good dramatic sense. Hornist Michael Mayhew and the bassoons distinguished themselves in the lovely Nocturne, and the Wedding March was graced with sweep and semi-pompous brilliance.
Principal bassoonist John Clouser can thank his teacher, longtime Philadelphia Orchestra principal Bernard Garfield, for a number of things, including the instrument he used (which belonged to Garfield) and the cadenzas he played in Mozart's concerto last weekend. The solo parts in the piece include only the notes that were possible on a bassoon in Mozart's time, but the cadenzas demonstrate the extra range — high and low — that modern improvements have made available to today's performer. Clouser was immediately impressive for his warm, woody tone — strong in the treble, resonant in the bass and remarkably even throughout the instrument's range — and later for his agile traversal of Mozart's more complicated passages. The slow movement was lyrically lovely, and Clouser made the third movement dance. The reduced orchestra supported him expertly. The horns managed their opening high notes with aplomb and the oboes had some witty rejoinders to make in their back and forth conversation with the soloist.
Berlioz's Love Scene begins with murmurings and vague motives that soon coalesce into broad themes. With an eye on what was to follow, Feddeck kept the piece from boiling over emotionally while still allowing it to percolate with evocative details. Violas and cellos entwined in their own love duet and cellist Mark Kosower and the winds enjoyed their own expressive mini-scene.
Then the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, joined by nine percussionists, filed on for the finale, Ravel's Daphnis and Chloë Suite No. 2. “Daybreak” gathered momentum slowly amid warbling winds and sensuous flute solos, but by the time we reached the “General Dance”, all heaven broke loose in waves of wordless choral energy and vibrant orchestral color. The plush-toned chorus integrated its “ah's” into the instrumental fabric and brought Thursday evening to a panoramic close, eloquently spurred on by James Feddeck.
A curious thing happened to the Fridays @ 7 format on the way to opening night this season. The idea of a 75-minute concert preceded by world music and followed by an afterparty suddenly grew into a more-than-two hour concert with intermission. The change was largely necessitated by the logistics of setting up probably more world percussion instruments than anyone has ever seen in one place for Stewart Copeland's Gamelan D'Drum, starring the Dallas percussion group, D'Drum. Though the instruments were already parked on the lowered orchestra pit deck when the evening began, it took a long intermission to finish placing them. Then Jamey Haddad conducted a lively interview with Copeland before the piece, with the orchestra already in place.
What followed, in three movements, was a fascinating, partially-improvised percussion-fest brilliantly but not deafeningly played by the five Dallas drummers, who processed in and moved about the stage striking, shaking and caressing an astonishing variety of “world” instruments, mostly of Javanese and Balinese origin, including two complete sets of Gamelan gongs, the world's largest rain stick and a rice trough which yielded resonant, hollow sounds when pounded with long, heavy poles. Each movement was named, Copeland explained, after aspects of the instruments that would perform them: Klentong (gong), Taksu (“the spirit, the gentle rhythmic beauty that is the soul of Balinese aesthetics”), and Lesung (that rice trough).
Copeland, a rock drummer formerly with the British band, Police, has tried his hand at composing in that elusive art form we call “classical music” on several previous occasions, most memorably for Clevelanders with his opera Holy Blood and Crescent Moon, commissioned some years ago by David Bamberger for Cleveland Opera. At the time, one visiting critic described the results as “innocently amateurish music”, and that could describe the foursquare, episodic material and rudimentary orchestration of Gamelan D'Drum as well. But you had to admire the concept and be wowed by the collective prowess of the five soloists (Dallas Symphony percussionists Ron Snider & Doug Howard and Dallas area freelancers John Bryant, Ed Smith and Josh Jennings). The audience loved it, responding with an ecstatic standing ovation before joining Jamey Haddad, jazz pianist Alon Yavnai, trombonist Jay Ashby, bassist Kip Reed and yet another percussionist, Dylan Moffitt, in the grand foyer for a jazzy afterparty.
Photographs courtesy of Roger Mastroianni and The Cleveland Orchestra.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com October 10, 2012
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