On Saturday, January 21, 2017, as part of the 86th season of "Symphony Center Presents", The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Franz Welser-Most, put on a double-barreled hit program of Beethoven and Sibelius with an 8-minute encore by Smetana at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago. The great orchestra, one of the “Big Five”, under the baton of the dramatic and compelling Maestro Welser-Most, whose tenure with Cleveland is the longest running as music director in that group, gained a standing ovation for their rich, strong and evocative presentation.
The first half of the program consisted of “Symphony No. 8 in F Major”, Op. 93, 1812, by Ludwig von Beethoven, a 46 minute piece described as “light-hearted, though not lightweight”. This is a symphony in 4 movements, played loudly and happily, and supposedly containing musical jokes. However, at least one author, Tom Service, has written, “It makes you think you’re listening to a light-hearted witticism, but Beethoven is really reforming the symphony right in front of your ears.” He adds, “If you hear the secod movement as a musical joke, you’re missing the point”. Instead, he describes a symphony imbued with "textural, rhythmic, orchestral and harmonic invention “. The piece is exciting, innovative and fresh. With sweeping yet tightly controlled gestures, Welser-Most brought the piece forth in its haunting melody and rich color.
The second half of the program was Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major”, Op. 43, 1902-03. Sibelius himself remarked about this compelling work, “My second symphony is a confession of the soul”. The piece contains a “grandiose” finale, and was popularly dubbed the “Symphony of Independence”. Composed in 4 movements, the 45 minute symphony grows out of a triple note theme in the first movement, progresses through a portion that has been called “a broken-hearted protest against all…injustice”, followed by a swift and strongly lyrical third through the triumphant finale. The Cleveland Symphony gave us a brilliant rendition, filled with concentrated energy and drama.
The beautiful and much appreciated encore- the audience was loathe to let the orchestra leave- was Bedrich Smetana’s "Overture to “The Bartered Bride”, 1863-1866, often, as here, played independently from the three-act comic opera’s libretto. The music of the overture is mostly taken from the finale of the third Act. It begins with a concerted orchestral “thrust”, followed by a sprightly string section and culminating in a percussive dance portion of great energy. The piece is rapturous, compellingly lovely and filled with folk influences.
For information about and tickets to all the great concerts and programs at Symphony Center, go to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website
All photos by Justin Holden, courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra