by Daniel Hathaway
The Cleveland Orchestra packed a full dose of excitement into 75 minutes on May 6 with its final Fridays@7 concert of the season. Led by Houston Symphony music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada and further animated by the dark piano pyrotechnics of Kirill Gerstein, music by Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky left different lasting impressions on the ear.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s first concerto is the work of a young man — impatient, fidgety, and always eager to move on to a new idea. Dozens of moods are adopted, then discarded during its 25-minute duration, beginning with dramatic opening gestures that soon become lyrical — almost sentimental — before the piano explodes in fury. Gerstein took on each of its mercurial turns as though he were improvising them as he went along (he has a parallel career in jazz). After singing one of Rachmaninoff’s “big tunes,” the piano ends the first movement with full keyboard flourishes, a feature Gerstein tossed off with nonchalance.
Lushness characterizes the slow movement, an orchestral cushion of sound under exquisite horn, bassoon, and trumpet solos and light piano filigree from Gerstein.
The finale is a rhythmic romp featuring octaves in the piano that bring a smile to your face. It comes to a dead halt in the middle, then returns to the fray with chattering woodwind conversations with the piano, before a wonderful free-for-all breaks loose. You could call the culmination of this concerto a “Hollywood ending,” but Rachmaninoff got there before the film industry did. Kirill Gerstein’s playing was flat-out fabulous, and he received the kind of ovation he richly deserved.
In addition to being a groundbreaking composer, Igor Stravinsky was also a cunning businessman who made enough changes in his very early works to be able to copyright them as new pieces when the protection period ran out. That’s why we have Firebird Suites both from 1919 and 1945 (in addition to an earlier one in 1911). The former most often appears on concerts these days, but Orozco-Estrada chose the latter for his Severance Hall appearance last weekend, making for a half hour’s worth of sumptuous, exotic music.
Orozco-Estrada led a vivid, beautifully-paced performance that brought sections of the orchestra and soloists into sharp relief: the sinister basses at the beginning, the sinuous oboe of Frank Rosenwein, the piano flourishes of Joela Jones in the buoyant dance, the elegant violin solo by William Preucil, golden-toned horn solos by a guest from San Francisco, and John Clouser’s lulling bassoon berceuse. At the end, a grand tutti was crowned by the glowing brass section, the culmination of a spectacular 75-minute concert.
Making the evening all the more pleasurable, the weather gods finally called off their chilly spring siege of the city, allowing tents to go up on the patio and the Fridays@7 crowd to enjoy al fresco drinks and munchies before and after the concert.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com May 11, 2016.
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