Gustavo Gimeno, recently named music director designate of the Toronto Symphony, returned to Cleveland this weekend to conduct a program alluring in its geographic diversity, traversing works of Barber, Ginastera, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal boasted a clangorous, Technicolor opening, teeming with the energy and inspiration of the youthful composer. Italianate in character, owing to Barber’s time in Italy and generally Eurocentric training, an oboe melody, lush yet lithe in Frank Rosenwein’s delivery, evidenced the work’s insistent neo-Romanticism, later resurfacing in the more resonant English horn of Robert Walters. A brief though boisterous coda concluded; covering much in its compact duration, the overture made for an ideal curtain-raiser.

Mark Kosoer and The Cleveland Orchestra
© Roger Mastroianni

The rarity of the evening came in the form of Ginastera’s Cello Concerto no. 2, featuring The Cleveland Orchestra’s own Mark Kosower. Kosower is an established authority on Ginastera, having recording all of the composer’s works for cello, including both concertos with the Bamberg Symphony, the ensemble in which he served as principal cello prior to assuming that role in Cleveland in 2010. The Second Concerto dates from 1980, at the tail end of the composer’s life. Both were written with his wife in mind, the noted cellist Aurora Nátola (who performed the First with TCO in 1981). Matters began mysterious and disembodied, with germs of themes floating over a drone. The solo cello line was searching and unresolved, drifting into its highest range. More animated material introduced the extensive array of percussion, and the whole orchestra was rallied for a shattering climax, reminding me of the analogous passage in the first movement of Mahler’s Tenth. Sound faded out and the movement ended as mysteriously as it began.

The Scherzo sfuggevole (suggesting evanescence) was fleeting and fantastical, featuring rapid passages up and down the cello encouraged by frenetic playing in the piano. Nottilucente followed and engaged exotic timbres from the percussion, this remarkable music of stasis being something of a Latin American take on Bartók’s idiomatic night music. The finale opened with an extensive cadenza (structurally thus taking on a similar role as that in Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto), virtuosic though not in a particularly ostentatious manner. The orchestra joined for the movement proper, brimming with Andean folk themes. Here Ginastera’s Argentine roots were most obvious; the full force of the percussion battery was deployed for a motoric drive toward its powerful conclusion. A demanding work for both performers and audience alike, one was grateful for the opportunity to see Kosower in the spotlight and for his singular advocacy of this intriguing work.

Gustavo Gimeno conducts The Cleveland Orchestra
© Roger Mastroianni

Rimsky-Korsakov’s justly popular Scheherazade made for a further colorful selection. A commanding opening in the low brass brought to life the rocking waves at sea, surely partly inspired by the composer’s own background as a naval officer. Concertmaster Peter Otto assumed the substantial role for solo violin; against the strumming of the harp it suggested a minstrel telling a tale. Otto proved to be an effective and engaging bard with his beautiful tone and deft articulation. Faux-orientalism reigned prominent in the second movement with a memorable theme passed among the principal woodwinds, ending up in the capable hands of clarinetist Afendi Yusuf whose iteration included rapid ornamentation. “The Young Prince and the Young Princess” was, as the title suggests, a lyrical love song with the music swelling to passion. Flourishes in the woodwinds were later imitated by the strings, and here Otto’s passage displayed his technical aplomb – the sum total evidencing Rimsky’s remarkable ear for color.

The concluding movement proceeded as a series of lively vignettes, given a vigorous workout – perhaps none more so than the militant series of repeated notes. A peaceful resolution was reached, however, with Otto landing on a sustained pitch high in the stratosphere. A fine performance of a favorite, it also served to whet one’s appetite for John Adams’ “sequel”, the aptly named Scheherazade.2, to be conducted by the composer on the same stage next month.