Thierry Fischer, music director of the Utah and São Paulo Symphonies, stepped in early this past week to substitute for Semyon Bychkov, who withdrew from this week’s Cleveland Orchestra concert. Fischer substituted Messiaen’s Les Offrandes oubliées and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for scheduled works by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky. Only Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major remained from the original program. The 21-year-old Israeli pianist Tom Borrow made his Cleveland Orchestra debut in a performance that was both technically brilliant and astonishing in its perceptive musicality.

Tom Borrow
© Tal Givony

Olivier Messiaen is one of the few composers whose personal compositional style was apparent at the age of 22 and remained fixed for the rest of his long career. His Les Offrandes oubliées, (The Forgotten Offerings), composed in 1930, was Messiaen’s first published orchestral work. The work’s three sections (slow, fast, infinitely slow) represent religious themes: the cross, sin and the Eucharist. Messiaen’s invented harmonic modes and languorous melodies were colorful, and the violent middle section was ferocious. But the very slow third section, for only violins and violas, was quietly ecstatic, winding slowly upward to a very high, very soft long chord that faded into silence. The control and unanimity of the Cleveland Orchestra’s strings was perfect.

Tel Aviv-born pianist Tom Borrow is quickly rising into the starry ranks of young concert pianists. Among other honors, he is currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and he is definitely one to watch. Very famous and less renowned pianists have performed this concerto with TCO. Borrow leaped close to the top of the heap with his performance on Thursday. He has a quiet, reticent stage manner and, when seated at the piano, his concentration on the music eliminated extraneous visual drama. Cascades of notes rippled effortlessly from his fingers. The jazzy similarities to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue were apparent, but this was not just a show of virtuosity. The Satie-esque second movement packed an emotional wallop in its quiet musicality, especially when the woodwind players of the orchestra began their solo obbligatos above the steady slow waltz of the soloist. The perpetual motion of the third movement was taken at such a pace that it seemed that it ended as soon as it began. Everything was clear, precise, with equal virtuosity required of both orchestra and soloist. With Borrow’s combination of technical skill and sensitive musicality, I would sign up instantly to hear him play again. After an unusually long ovation, Borrow returned for an equally brilliant encore: Claude Debussy’s Feux d'artifice where the fireworks shimmered and danced with uncanny ease.

The Cleveland Orchestra
© Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition followed intermission, where there was abundant attention to often-missed details. Fischer evoked the thick darkness of the Catacombs, and the Hebraic themes of Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle, as well as the lightness of texture of the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, and the Limoges market. There were ample opportunities for TCO soloists to shine, but two deserve special mention: alto saxophone Gabriel Pique had a gorgeous sound, blending vibrato and non-vibrato, with sensitive phrasing. Principal Trumpet Michael Sachs excelled in the treacherous, very high figurations of the Goldenberg movement. The Great Gate of Kiev was majestic, with all kinds of bells, gongs and festivities.