Cleveland Orchestra gala hits musical, financial benchmarks

October 1, 2018

Cleveland Orchestra gala hits musical, financial benchmarks

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Never mind the cocktail reception or post-concert dinner. The real meal at the Cleveland Orchestra’s gala Saturday night at Severance Hall was the music.

No light, fluffy affair, this. On its last official celebration of its 100th anniversary, the orchestra offered patrons a substantial program comparable in scope and weight to a traditional subscription evening.

Alas, the performances, too, were often on the weighty side. Still, the evening was a success. On top of a record $1.75 million for education, the event led by director Franz Welser-Most and taped for later broadcast on public television handily raised the group’s international profile as well as interest in its current favorite repertoire.

Lang Lang, the night’s headliner, gave the suavest of the concert’s four performances. In Mozart’s brooding Piano Concerto No. 24, the pianist was an unfailingly clear, poetic presence, wielding both a sparkling touch and a potent sense of expression.

Welser-Most and the orchestra supplied a bold thematic framework and the pianist filled it out with tenderness, exquisite care, and a delightful element of playfulness that surely laid to rest any lingering conceptions of Lang as a hammerer of keys. Had the schedule permitted an encore from him, it would have been more than welcome.

The orchestra spent the rest of the evening riffing on that Viennese theme, with mixed results. The PBS “Great Performances” episode now in the works seems likely to showcase a technically brilliant but also somewhat heavy-handed ensemble.

Ravel’s “La Valse” boasted much that was stellar. Grace and elegance may have been in short supply but the haze out of which the main theme emerged was glorious, and the fit of waltzing mania that ultimately erupted was incredible to behold.

Balance was the issue in the Symphonic Fantasy from Strauss’s opera “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.” Drama, though, was the victor. Lyricism, emotional depth, theatriclity, a magnificent trombone solo: the reading under Welser-Most had everything else a listener could ask for.

As for the “Wiener Blut” waltz by Strauss, Jr., well, it was just perfect. Against so many charming melodies, such a teasing lilt, and such a responsive orchestra, there simply was no defending. As many were reminded Saturday, and many more will soon discover on television, the Cleveland Orchestra can be extremely persuasive.

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