Even during unprecedented times, The Cleveland Orchestra continues to have a knack for imaginative programming. The present offering juxtaposed works of Dvořák and John Corigliano, evidencing an uncanny ability to draw connections and illuminate contrasts across disparate repertoire. As with so much of this season’s music, the Dvořák served as a celebration of the strings, while the Corigliano shone the spotlight on someone who doesn’t often have the opportunity to stand front and center – principal percussionist Marc Damoulakis.

Marc Damoulakis
© Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

Despite its late opus number, Dvořák’s String Quintet in G major, Op.77, is an early work, contemporaneous with the First Symphony, and very much the music of a young composer finding his voice, yet not without signs of the hallmarks that would make him indelible. Its scoring calls for the standard string quartet with the addition of double bass as opposed to the more customary second viola, making the transmogrification to string orchestra a seamless endeavor. Additionally, the cellos were granted a generous amount of melodic material rather than being shouldered with the responsibilities of the bass line.

The work saw gentle and lyrical beginnings, emanating an untroubled congeniality. Long paragraphs and spacious pacing were further encouraged by the collegial strings. The Scherzo was of an irresistible charm, with echoes of the composer’s Bohemian origins – fitting as per the quintet’s dedication “To my Nation”. The slow movement showed Dvořák wholly at peace with the world, with some particularly lovely playing in the cellos, and the joyous, vigorous finale didn’t sacrifice any of the intended clarity despite expansion to the larger ensemble.

Franz Welser-Möst conducts The Cleveland Orchestra
© Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

In the included interview with Corigliano, the composer spoke of his initial hesitance in writing a concerto for percussion, citing the wide array of instruments available in a percussion battery -–effectively obscuring the performer’s identity as a soloist – as well as the percussion’s lack of sustaining, in opposition to the composer’s penchant for lyrical melody. The challenges identified were not without thoughtful solutions, however, and the resultant work Conjurer was premiered by percussionist Evelyn Glennie in 2008.

To address the first concern, the composer reduced the orchestral accompaniment to strings alone (with optional brass in the third movement, a directive not employed in the present performance), and isolated each family of percussion instruments to their namesake movement, thus giving the soloist both prominence and uniformity. Each movement is preceded by a cadenza wherein the soloist introduces the various timbres and themes to be explored, thereby “conjuring” up that which follows.

Marc Damoulakis
© Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

The opening “Wood” displayed from the onset Damoulakis’ virtuosity and thorough command of the instruments at his disposal, in this case, the xylophone and marimba most prominently. Gestures suggested by the percussion took the shape of an angular theme in the strings, and under Franz Welser-Möst’s astute guidance, the parts and pieces were strung together as a cohesive whole. “Metal” was unmistakably heralded by the clangorous tam-tam and imposing chimes. Lyrical strings offered some semblance of a traditional slow movement, yet matters built to a powerful climax. In the movement’s final moments, the vibraphone was struck and bowed simultaneously, yielding a mesmerizing sustaining effect. “Skins” began by exhibiting the remarkable expressive potential of the talking drum in a finale generally propelled by its rhythmic vitality. A further cadenza invited the soloist the opportunity to improvise, pointing headstrong to the final accelerando that brought this tour de force to a rousing close.


This performance was reviewed from the Adella video stream

***11