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Cleveland Orchestra makes lasting memory with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

October 5, 2018

Cleveland Orchestra makes lasting memory with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The coming absence of Franz Welser-Most will be as naught. Memories of the Cleveland Orchestra concert he led Thursday night at Severance Hall will suffice at least until the director’s return in mid-January, if not longer.

That’s how special was the account of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony No. 2. Like the human spirit the work envisions lasting forever, echoes of the performance Welser-Most and the orchestra gave Thursday are certain to ring in the ears of listeners for weeks and months to come. In short, this is not a weekend to stay home.

Welser-Most’s passion for Mahler, intimacy with the score, and special talent for handling large-scale works were evident in nearly every bar. Eleven years after he took the work on tour to Europe, the music director brought back the piece Thursday with new insight, patience, and priorities.

No rushing, blurring, or other side-effects of haste here. Likewise, nothing indulgent or overly emotional. Along with a relatively quick overall tempo, Welser-Most and the orchestra sustained close attentions to detail, balance, and dynamics. A clearer or more greatly nuanced performance truly would be difficult to imagine.

Add to this a superb chorus and slate of guest singers. To the critical final movement imagining heavenly bliss, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus brought its usual but still uncommon resonance and expressiveness, supplying comfort of both the musical and spiritual varities, and soprano Joelle Harvey proved the vocal equivalent of an angel. Glorious contributions by brass players on and off stage only filled out a stellar scene.

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke may have been even more stunning. Her account of the “Uhrlicht” movement, one of Mahler’s most exquisite creations, was simply divine. Welser-Most could have slowed down a jot, but Cooke could not have rendered her voice any fuller, purer, or more poignant. At her singing of the word “Leben” (“life”), this listener very nearly choked up.

The orchestra over which Welser-Most presided was no less magnificent. Seemingly obsessed with clarity, the conductor held his players on a thrillingly tight leash, demanding exceptional delicacy and the finest degrees of dynamic contrast.

The opening Allegro was a thing of meticulous beauty. Amid bountiful melody and a bold structural outline, nothing was lost. Faint harps rang out over even softer violin and the basses and violas hummed with quiet eloquence.

Technical brilliance also was the highlight of the second and third movements. The strings again struck a remarkable balance between lyricism and delicacy, notably in a pizzicato section, and the dance-like Scherzo, with piquant woodwinds, managed to sound both graceful and menacing all the way up to a shattering peak.

When Welser-Most returns, in mid-January, his first order of musical business will be a large one: a new staged production of Strauss’s comic opera “Ariadne auf Naxos.” No doubt he’ll be ready for it. The only question now is whether we will be.

REVIEW

Cleveland Orchestra

What: Franz Welser-Most conducts Mahler

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday Oct. 5 and 6.

Where: Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

Tickets: $31-$165. Go to clevelandorchestra.com or call 216-231-1111.

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