There were two Cleveland Orchestra firsts this week at Severance Hall. Franz Welser-Möst conducted the first TCO performance of Haydn’s Symphony no. 34 in D minor, and – of greater consequence – the United States premiere of Austrian composer Bernd Richard Deutsch’s Okeanos concerto for organ and orchestra, with Paul Jacobs as the soloist.

Franz Welser-Möst © Carl Juste
Franz Welser-Möst
© Carl Juste

Haydn’s delightful Symphony no. 34 was written in 1765 when Haydn was in his 30s. It is adventurous in neither structure nor harmony compared to Haydn’s later symphonies. But there were a few surprises, including a mostly quiet first movement Adagio, played here with quiet delicacy. Despite its title giving the symphony’s key as D minor, only the first movement was in the minor; the remaining three movements were in D major. The second movement Allegro was jolly and vigorous. The third movement Minuet trio was highlighted by a delightful oboe duet, played by Jeffrey Rathbun and Corbin Stair. The fourth movement, with its triplet figures in the violins, had the aspect of a very fast jig and had interesting contrasts between forte and pianissimo.

Bernd Richard Deutsch, 42, is beginning a two-year term as TCO’s new Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow, serving as composer-in-residence through 2020. His appointment will culminate in a work composed especially for them. In the meantime, he will serve in a variety of consultative and educational functions with the orchestra.

Okeanos is named after the mythological Greek personification of the world’s oceans. Deutsch composed Okeanos in 2014, calling for a virtuoso organ soloist and a very large orchestra, including a massive battery of percussion. At first hearing, Okeanos appears to be an important new contribution to the uncrowded repertoire of organ concerti. Paul Jacobs, who in recent years has become a frequent soloist with The Cleveland Orchestra, was a brilliant exponent of the difficult solo part.

Okeanos is in four movements representing, respectively, water, air, earth, and fire. The “Air” and “Earth” movements are elided without pause. Deutsch has a finely-honed sense of instrumental timbre and texture, combining, for example, two piccolos, high percussion, and celesta against the high-pitched stops of the organ. In another passage, strings crescendo during a menacing slow downward glissando. Trombones and trumpets create a soft “wah-wah” sound combined with the softest string stops on the organ. In the fourth movement, rhythmic and massive chords closely resemble some passages in Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie.

The organ part in Okeanos – although technically difficult – is idiomatic for the player, and, like the orchestra, Deutsch understands how registrations and sounds work on the instrument. There are numerous double-pedal passages for the performer, toccata-like passages galore, and opportunities for full-hand glissandi and forearm note clusters. But there are also passages in which the organ is subsumed as part a subtle interplay between solo and orchestra. Jacobs was in command of the many resources of Severance Hall’s large E.M. Skinner pipe organ. Without doubt, Okeanos is worth revival, and of being taken up by other soloists and orchestras.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s indestructible Symphony no. 5 in E minor occupied the second half of the program, in a passionate and precise performance that was uncommonly inspiring. Throughout, Welser-Möst led flexible and nuanced phrases, always pressing ahead but never seeming to rush the tempos. The many incidental solos throughout were excellent, although the tone of the important horn solo in the second movement Andante cantabile was perhaps not as burnished as it might have been. The third-movement waltz was elegant, with lovely ebb and flow. The fourth movement was often thunderous, but with moments of repose. The last section of the symphony was heroic, with its brass fanfares. Welser-Möst whipped the proceedings to a frenzy for a final coda.

****1