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Take away the soloist on Thursday night, and the Cleveland Orchestra's concert might have been just a comfortable, well-played, slightly old-fashioned event at Severance Hall.
Then there was Stefan Jackiw.
The 22-year-old violinist is one of those talents you just have to shake your head about. It doesn't make sense that someone can play with such understanding at his age, but there it was, a performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 that was something to treasure.
Jackiw (pronounced Jah-KEEV), who earned degrees from both Harvard University and the New England Conservatory, was the substitute for Janine Jansen, who was unable to travel due to illness. It was disappointing not to hear Jansen, a player of great individuality and finesse. But Jackiw's extraordinary Cleveland Orchestra debut was something people will be talking about.
The Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 is a youthful composition, straightforward in its style. Playing with an exceptionally beautiful, sweet sound, Jackiw treated it as a gift.
The second movement is one of Mozart's islands of repose. Here, Jackiw placed each note perfectly, gently setting it in order. He sculpted the lines with the utmost care, yet without seeming to fuss over them. Jackiw created a miraculous effect of naturalness. The apparent spontaneity is something only a truly gifted artist can deliver on demand.
This musician is eager, too. After a warm response from the audience, he played the Prelude from the Partita in E Major by J.S. Bach, devouring its technical challenges and enjoying every ebb and flow of dynamic contrast. Akron audience members have something to look forward to when Jackiw opens the Akron Symphony season on Sept. 20 with the Sibelius Violin Concerto.
Guest conductor Sir Andrew Davis led the orchestra in careful consideration of Jackiw in the concerto. The musicians played attentively for Davis, who last conducted the orchestra in 2001.
Davis, who previously trained as an organist, made the arrangement of J.S. Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 (originally for organ) on Thursday's program. Davis' choice and use of instruments created a lighter texture than some such transcriptions do, appealingly so. The orchestra let us hear the space and air between the notes.
The program finished with Cesar Franck's big Symphony in D minor, a work that struggles with Wagnerian muscle until breaking into rhapsodic outbursts. English horn and French horn solos distinguished the orchestral playing. Under Davis' baton, the Franck had the homespun warmth of Dvorak, with the tiniest jazzy tinge. Like the evening's soloist, Davis brought his own personality to the most well-known music.