REVIEW: (HT) Community packs house for Joshua Bell and Cleveland Orchestra

Music review: Community packs house for Joshua Bell and Cleveland Orchestra

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
January 25, 2013

The Cleveland Orchestra feeds on tradition and pride. One can tell by the musicians’ bearing, individually and collectively. One can tell by the seriousness in their demeanor and the passion in their playing. One can tell in how they respond to their conductor, their empathetic music director of 11 years standing, Franz Welser-Most.

It was a pleasure to watch and listen to them Wednesday evening in the Indiana University Auditorium, as they performed in a concert that was the centerpiece of their second campus residency. And it was gratifying that the Bloomington community came out for the event, providing the listeners what looked to this observer as a full house.

Of course, what helped attract the crowd was the promised presence of home town hero Joshua Bell who, as expected, delivered the goods, too: a most musical, radiant and fervent performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. That morsel served as the opening half of the program. After intermission, the Clevelanders took over, with a thrilling presentation of the Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique.” The package resulted in two extended, cheers-seasoned standing ovations.

Bloomington certainly is not orchestra starved. Gown and town supply us with arrays of concerts, dozens upon dozens annually. But visiting ensembles have become rare. To have such a distinguished orchestra as the Cleveland is a major event. The visitors made sure to remind attendees that, indeed, the rare event was extra special, well worth the build-up and meeting, even exceeding, expectations.

Whether the Auditorium was the best venue for the Beethoven Violin Concerto is a question only folks who sat farther back in that big house than I can say. The work, though containing occasional fireworks, is often a vessel for quiet contemplation. The violinist is given opportunities to produce soft and seductive dynamics, which Joshua Bell surely took full advantage of. The middle movement, the Larghetto, with its introspective radiance, was produced lovingly. One hopes and trusts such intimacy of sound traveled to the more distant corners of the theater. The enthusiastic audience reaction at the conclusion of the performance would suggest it did.

Of course, there is majesty, too, in the concerto. Some of those moments, as interpreted by Bell, were absolutely breathtaking, such as in festive portions of the opening Allegro and in the effervescent closing Rondo. He also enriched the proceedings with expressive and appropriate cadenzas for each movement. Throughout all this, Welser-Most and the orchestra supplied custom-made collaboration.

The “Symphonie Fantastique,” a program piece with a story to tell, a tone poem ahead of its time, gained a brilliant reading, fully suggestive of what Berlioz intended to relate about a musician’s thwarted love affair, like the composer’s own but made more febrile and dramatic through opium-induced hallucinations and nightmares that cause the poor fellow to think he’s murdered the woman who rejected him, leading to his execution and a funeral attended by “specters, sorcerers, and monsters of every kind.”

The score is an aural wonder calling for reverie and bloodshed, for vivid description in sound along with a structure that keeps the episodic story intact. There are wonderful chances for soloists from within the orchestra to show off their talents, which all concerned did. And for the orchestra, this is a feast, on which the Clevelanders truly feasted. What one heard ranged from ravishing to voluptuous, from elegant charm to hair-raising fortissimos. Welser-Most worked to celebrate the music’s rebellious boundaries but wove them into a magic whole. The performance was gripping.

One hopes these esteemed visitors will come again.

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