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Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra concert is an exciting and revelatory experience
Cleveland Plain Dealer
By Mark Satola
A lively curtain-raiser, a suite from a ballet and a venerable war horse from the core repertoire: seemingly a recipe for a business-as-usual concert at Severance Hall. But in the hands of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and music director James Feddeck, Sunday's matinee concert became something else entirely -- an exciting and revelatory experience.
The first of the youth orchestra's 2010-11 performances marked the beginning of its 25th anniversary season, and its second season under Feddeck's supervision. What took place Sunday bodes well for the rest of the year.
The string sections sound especially good this year. Supple and responsive, with a gleaming tone that a professional orchestra might envy, the young string players, with their equally fine wind and percussion colleagues, performed with an admirable unity and precision in challenging music of John Adams, Francis Poulenc and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Adams' energetic "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" is a tall order for any orchestra. But the orchestra players managed it well, maintaining rhythmic discipline while riding its big crests of sound. The four trumpets acquitted themselves heroically, sounding out the work's big clarion theme as Adams' machine raced to a finish.
After the hurricane of Adams' piece, the suite from Poulenc's 1923 ballet "Les Biches" was a pleasant sorbet. Poulenc's pointillistic score requires precise execution as melodies and phrases are broken up and distributed around the orchestra, and Feddeck's leisurely tempos gave his players the space to weave the music's parts into a satisfying whole.
Oboist Mary O'Keefe and trumpeter Mark Toole were standouts in Poulenc's suite. The brass sections were nicely restrained here as well, resisting the urge, all too often encountered in professional orchestras, to play everything fortissimo. The blend, as mixed from the podium, was just about perfect.
Performances of Beethoven symphonies are so frequently encountered that to describe them as "ubiquitous" seems inadequate. If, however, more orchestras played them the way the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra played Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 on Sunday, they might seem like more of an event to be welcomed.
Maybe it was the players' youth, with its presumptive ardor and intensity, that made this reading of Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony special. One sensed a strong commitment to the score throughout its five movements, and a freshness, too.
Feddeck led with brisk tempos -- perhaps a bit more brisk than the horns might have liked in the scherzo -- though he made time stand still beautifully in the slow movement, "Scene by the Brook." It was here that the orchestra really showed its stuff, sustaining the music's meditative impulse for the better part of a quarter hour.
This writer has heard more performances of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony than he cares to recount. I'm hard-pressed, however, to recall one I've enjoyed quite as much.