After a very successful week on location in Cleveland’s west side Gordon Square neighborhood playing concerts in bars, coffee shops, school classrooms and a large Roman Catholic church, The Cleveland Orchestra returned to their Severance Hall home for the last weekend of concerts of the 2012/13 subscription season. The hall was packed to hear Austrian guest conductor Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conduct standard works by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, along with the Cleveland première of Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson’s Open Mind.

Manfred Honeck © Felix Broede
Manfred Honeck
© Felix Broede

Martinsson’s ten-minute piece was a brilliant opening for the concert in its astonishingly derivative music – and this is meant as a compliment. Martinsson has taken the best parts of some familiar musical genres (music theater, film noir scores) and turned them into a fresh and attractive concert overture, just the right length to precede more substantial works. The work begins with grand, brassy fanfares and jazzy rhythms as if from the overture of a 1950s Broadway musical, followed by music as lushly romantic as Erich Korngold's film scores. A quiet, mysterious middle section features melodic solos on cor anglais and trumpet, adorned with shimmering percussion. The music builds to a fortissimo climax, with a truncated return of the opening music, which eventually slithers quietly and chromatically off to nowhere. Rolf Martinsson was present for the performance and took a bow at the end of the performance. The Cleveland Orchestra’s performance was, presumably, authoritative. It’s an overture worth hearing again.

Manfred Honeck was joined by pianist Lars Vogt for a performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto that again emphasized the Romantic and dramatic elements over subtlety. Vogt offered a robust performance. The sonata-form first movement is comparable in length to that of a movement from one of Beethoven’s symphonies, with the piano sometimes filling in around the edges. But the piano reasserts itself, and in Mr Vogt’s hands the first movement’s cadenza was especially thrilling in its virtuosity. The central slow movement begins softly and serenely in chorale-like passages for the solo piano. The orchestra extends the Mozartian elegance. After two serious movements in C minor, the third movement rondo was a bouncy and light-hearted romp ending in C major that elicited an ovation from the audience, with orchestra members also applauding Lars Vogt’s performance.

After intermission, Mr Honeck and orchestra returned for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 in E minor. Just as the conductor raised his baton for the downbeat, the curse of modern concert-going struck: someone’s mobile phone rang. And apparently no-one wanted to own up to the humiliation of it, so it was left to ring for 20 seconds. There were sounds of exasperation from the audience, and Mr Honeck waited patiently for the racket to cease. What followed was a passionate performance of one of the most beloved symphonies in the repertoire. Principal clarinet Franklin Cohen’s control over the hushed clarinet solos was breathtaking, and principal horn Richard King gave an performance of ethereal beauty in the famous second-movement Andante cantabile tune. The gracious third-movement waltz could only be by Tchaikovsky, with its glorious melodic invention and scurrying string figurations in the center of the movement. Honeck led a rhythmical flexible performance. The fourth movement is based prominently on the so-called “fate motive” that begins the first movement and recurs through the rest of the symphony. The theme is developed at length, with several contrasting motives. At the end of a huge climax there is a false “ending”, on the key signature’s dominant, which here tricked a few people in the audience into applauding during the grand pause. The finale is, however, yet to come, and Mr Honeck brought the symphony to a triumphant ending, reminding us why this warhorse symphony is indestructible after countless performances. It was a majestic ending to a successful Severance Hall season.

***11