The Cleveland Orchestra scored another great success in the second installment of the In Focus streaming series. One’s finest work is often done when surmounting a challenge or limitation: restricted to music for a modestly-sized string orchestra and without the benefit of a live audience, TCO and Franz Welser-Möst nonetheless rose to the task and presented enticing repertoire in stellar performances. Filmed at Severance Hall two weeks prior to the streaming premiere, this performance will be available on demand for the next three months – I tried both the iOS and tvOS versions of Adella, and found it to be thoughtfully-designed and reliably performant.

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

Though it practically feels like a lifetime ago, Yefim Bronfman was last on the Severance Hall stage earlier this year. A familiar presence he may be, yet he offered the unfamiliar in Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings. In his spoken introduction, Bronfman noted it’s a new addition to his repertoire, a project undertaken as concert halls shuttered.

A soliloquy in the piano opened, sparsely textured with bell-like sonorities growing in weight and dissonance. The strings joined in unobtrusively, layering over the piano’s deceptively simple Alberti bass. A powerful string chorale offered some of the most arresting material of the work, heightened by the hammered chords with which the piano responded. Ominous low strings heralded a passage as motoric as anything Prokofiev wrote, and here Bronfman was certainly in his element.

Schnittke’s penchant for garish contrasts was perhaps most evident in a section wherein the arching, biting lyricism of the strings was starkly countered by the piano. There, as with the work at large, a myriad of styles and influences coalesced into a single organism. An extended cadenza pointed to the return of the chorale, with the piano’s response more cataclysmic than before. Finally, matters all but dissipated with distant echoes of where it began.

Yefim Bronfman, Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra
© Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

The remainder of the program was devoted to Beethoven in the String Quartet no. 10 in E flat, reimagined for string orchestra: a true showcase of the potential of the Cleveland strings alone. While faithful to the spirit of the original, basses were added to double the cellos as needed. The strings have had success with Beethoven’s quartets in such a fashion before, most notably with Op.132, available on the recently-issued box set A New Century, a trove of musical riches that has made the paucity of concert life that much more bearable.

From the first chord, one was taken by the lushness of sound from the expanded ensemble. The opening movement’s principal theme was articulated with a genteel elegance, and the pizzicatos which earned this quartet its moniker Harp were all the more striking in its orchestral guise. A deftly coordinated effort purveyed a gentle lyricism in the Adagio ma non troppo while the third movement Scherzo was the mostly patently Beethovenian in its fire and fury, buttressed at present by a symphonic heft. The graceful set of variations that closed left the viewer with much-needed joy in these challenging times.


This performance was reviewed from the Adella video stream

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