The Cleveland Orchestra opened the 10th anniversary of its Miami residency Friday night at the Arsht Center with a program featuring two glittering orchestral showpieces. But it was soloist Johannes Moser who took the evening’s musical honors with a probing reading of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1.
Moser has offered impressive performances of scores by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky in previous South Florida appearances. His bracing version of Shostakovich’s 1959 work, however, was music making of an even higher order.
Originally conceived as a vehicle for Mstislav Rostropovich, this enigmatic score veers between Russian fireworks and darker rumblings. Many cellists play the piece in a coolly cerebral manner, concentrating on its opportunities for virtuosic display, but not Moser. From the initial bars of the opening Allegretto, he conveyed a plethora of emotions on a slender thread of tone. Moser is an elegant patrician of the instrument. While he does not command the largest sonority, his intonation is spot on, even in the fastest, high-flying passages. His fleet bowing carried the entire movement like a whirlwind.
Moser spun the mournful lament of the second movement in long, arching phrases. Melodic fragments were subtly shaded with minute variations of dynamics and tonal color. Moser deliberately paced the long cadenza, assaying the difficult leaps of register with total accuracy while allowing the music to speak directly in an unforced manner.
By contrast the finale was taken at a lightning clip. Beneath the brilliance and verve of Moser’s playing, there was always expressive depth. Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero was an astute collaborator, and the players responded with whipcrack intensity.
Guerrero dedicated the performance of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”) to the city of Paris in the spirit of music’s power to heal following Friday’s deadly terrorist attacks. Only halfway through the score did the performance catch fire.
Opening his final season as principal guest conductor of the Clevelanders’ Miami residency, Guerrero displayed familiar interpretive strengths and weaknesses. On the down side, the long musical arc of large-scale symphonies seems to elude him. The first movement Allegro moderato was shaped in a perfunctory manner with some surprising imprecision from the Cleveland violins and overwrought climaxes; the ensuing Adagio was too slow and mannered.
Requisite vitality finally came through in the scherzo and the entrance of the organ for the finale rang with grandeur. Playing a fine sounding electric instrument at the front of the stage, Miami native Joela Jones, Cleveland’s longtime principal keyboardist, produced a large sonority but also captured the Gallic lyricism of the softer sections. Guerrero built the climaxes impressively, with an aptly sonorous conclusion.
The conductor excels at highly colorful orchestral showpieces, and Carlos Chávez’s Sinfonia India found him in his element. With a snappy percussion section simulating native instruments, the rhythmically alert traversal throbbed with momentum. Even the lyrical second subject was given an undercurrent of astringency. The ensemble was at its best, all sections showcased in propulsive form.
Chavez was an important Latin American voice, his modernist style deeply influenced by Stravinsky. His six symphonies, concertos, ballet scores and chamber music are virtually never played. After 10 seasons, it is time for the Cleveland ensemble to program major Latin-American scores rather than 10-minute overtures. The work of Mexico’s Blas Galindo and Cuba’s Julían Orbón should also be explored. Latin America’s classical heritage needs to be celebrated in Miami.
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