Monday, April 21, 2014


Severance Hall
April 19

A great fit with the hometown band.

Herbert Blomstedt is a master technician, a well-traveled conductor who brings great experience and intelligence to his work. At 86, he specializes in spirited treatments of familiar warhorses, giving them new life and flair. He did that with mixed results at Severance on Saturday night, crafting a lush, radiant version of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and a smart treatment of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor that was marred by technical problems.

The Dvořák concerto featured soloist Mark Kosower, the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal cellist. A technically dazzling player, Kosower gave the piece a cool reading, precise and restrained, a note-perfect performance that seemed bloodless at times. Even the deep, gut-wrenching reaches of the second movement sounded comparatively tame. The part calls for considerable skill, but in Kosower’s hands it was almost entirely an intellectual exercise, with little emotional content.

At least that the audience could hear. Kosower was drowned out at regular intervals by the orchestra, a surprising lack of balance – especially considering the fine subtleties and shading that Blomstedt created within the orchestra. His approach to the concerto was bracing, with horns that usually take a backseat putting bright colors in the sound and a charge in the music. Careful layering, rich textures and vivid woodwinds provided fine details in an authoritative interpretation that was a model of craftsmanship.

Except when it stepped on the cello lines. One could argue whether this was the conductor or the soloist’s fault; a more impassioned player might have risen above the orchestra. But Kosower already seemed to be sacrificing expression for volume. And normally the balance is worked out in rehearsal. Still, both Blomstedt and Kosower were on point for a thrilling finish, which brought the audience to its feet with a big hometown cheer for the cellist.

Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” symphony was a study in how to freshen a well-known work. Blomstedt knows it so well that he didn’t even need a score to conduct. After a quiet, deliberate opening, he quickly stepped up the pace and tone, imbuing the melodies with a warm, emotional sweep and opening up the march section to epic dimensions.

The grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s work can turn plodding in less experienced hands, but Blomstedt kept the pacing nimble and the sound flowing, unabashedly romantic in the melodies of the second movement and bold in the big dynamics of the third. The latter unfolded like a succession of crashing waves, propelling the listener to a pounding conclusion. And Blomstedt’s control in the muted finale was superb.

The players stayed in their seats during one of the curtain calls to applaud the conductor, who seemed to share their affection and admiration. It was a rewarding moment for the audience as well, an acknowledgment of the great music that world-class professionals can create together.

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