by J. D. Goddard
On Sunday, July 3, I attended the second of two pre-Fourth of July concerts at Blossom, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Johannes Debus. The open air pavilion was a picture perfect setting and the weather was ideal.
The evening opened with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, inspired by Tales of the Arabian Nights. The composer called it “A kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images,” in an introductory note to the work. The music recalls how the Sultana Scheherazade enchanted the cruel Sultan Schahriar with her fascinating stories, delaying her death sentence night after night and thereby saving her own life.
The work began its life as a violin concerto and morphed into the tone poem, retaining its mesmerizing solo violin part, performed here with passion by Associate Concertmaster Peter Otto. The many wind solos were excellent, and the brass, especially the horns, played with a rich, well-balanced sound.
After intermission came Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite No. 1 for Variety Stage Orchestra, a collection of eight movements derived from other works by the composer. As accomplished and seemingly carefree as anything Shostakovich ever wrote, the suite is a whirligig of tipsy tunes, musical chicanery and sultry, and laugh-out-loud rhythms. Each of the movements is filled with woodwind pyrotechnics, sizzling percussion, and string virtuosity — a showcase of Shostakovich’s genius in a short 20 minutes. Conductor Debus’ jovial approach to the piece was the delight of the evening.
And, of course, what Independence Day weekend concert would be complete without a performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture? Although it was written to mark Russia’s victory over Napoleon — the piece references the French national anthem La Marseillaise and Russia’s God Save the Tsar — for more than three decades, the work has been performed during United States Independence Day celebrations, due largely to an exhilarating performance by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops in 1974. (In an effort to increase ticket sales, Fiedler added fireworks, steeple-bell choir, and even more cannons to the overture.)
There were a few fizzles with the firing of the canon, but that seems to come with the territory. Bending and swaying, Debus conducted the piece with authority, showcasing the abundant talents within the Cleveland Orchestra.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 16, 2016.
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