Conductor Jahja Ling, cellist Johannes Moser lead Cleveland Orchestra's weekend feast at Blossom Music Center

08.04.09
Jahja Ling
Cleveland Plain Dealer

By Zachary Lewis

In some places, back-to-back nights of weighty symphonic music, such as those presented last weekend by the Cleveland Orchestra, can seem protracted. Not so at Blossom Music Center.

Between a slew of estimable artists, including four conductors, two guest soloists and a local student chamber orchestra, a well-stocked musical feast came and went in a flash.

Most engrossing was cellist Johannes Moser's tour-de-force account Sunday, Aug. 2 of Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1. Throughout, his mission seemed to be to squeeze out every bit of musical pulp, to give listeners heart palpitations with a score that's thrilling enough on its own.

Where the music asks for intensity, Moser answered with ferocity, wailing on his cello like a rock guitarist. The finale, especially, was a raging tide. But quieter passages were also gripping, as eerie high notes evoked utter loneliness or resignation.

Moser wasn't out there alone. Conductor Jahja Ling, celebrating a 25-year affiliation with the orchestra, responded to the cellist in kind, and soloists on horn, oboe and clarinet injected sirenlike urgency.

The weekend's other soloist was Ingrid Fliter. Like Moser, she, too, took an already passionate score -- in this case, the Schumann Piano Concerto -- to intense new heights.

Playing with the orchestra under David Zinman on Saturday, Aug. 1, Fliter struck sensitive balances, blending smoothly with her peers and adding dark undercurrents to filigree. Once alone, though, Fliter popped clearly into the foreground with definitive statements and poignant phrasing in the Intermezzo. Her gifts were such that, in the final Allegro, one forgot the music's virtuoso demands and instead got caught up in a long rallying of the spirit.

Refreshing purity marked Ling's rendition Sunday night of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8. In lieu of gimmicks, the conductor opted for lucid, literal tactics allowing formal tension and sheer grandeur to flow naturally from the expanded ensemble, including the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra.

Spacious but taut, the opening Allegro under Ling was as regal as could be, and with swooping, curvaceous phrasing, the large orchestra rolled dynamically through both the Adagio and Allegretto. But Ling's masterstroke was the finale, an organic fusion of the noble main theme, majestically stated by the low strings, and its bold development.

Zinman, by contrast, engaged in willful interpretation. Conducting Tchaikovsky's Fifth, he favored brash, suspenseful gestures. Where some dwell on ponderous matters, he embarked on a vigorous exorcism.

Abrupt about-faces kept things interesting in the bustling opening Allegro, while highlights of the Andante were the many evocative woodwind solos and a heartfelt statement from principal horn Richard King. Alas, though, such gutsy moves early on purloined some of the finale's thrilling thunder.

The rest of the programs fell to current and future assistant conductors. With the Kent/Blossom orchestra, current assistant Tito Mu2/3oz led a dramatic but graceful account of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony and played percussion in a lean, agile arrangement of Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" for chamber ensemble.

Sharing the Blossom stage was no doubt memorable for the Kent/Blossom players. But incoming assistant James Feddeck was truly under scrutiny Saturday in his Cleveland Orchestra debut conducting Mendelssohn's "Fair Melusina" overture.

Happily for him, it was an excellent showing, a propulsive reading alternating gravity and ebullience. Like the rest of the musical weekend, too, it was over almost as soon as it began.