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A Nielsen and Beethoven Performance to Remember

March 1, 2013

Several weeks ago, this critic had the privilege of attending a performance of The Cleveland Orchestra and Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt, pictured above, performing Carl Nielsen’s Sinfonia Espansiva and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Even before this critic took his seat, he was astonished that not even three-quarters of the hall was filled. Do audiences have no respect for a first-rate orchestra, one that has been rated as one of the world’s best? It was disappointing to see a lack of support for the artists onstage. However, despite a small audience, the performance was fantastic and made for a night to remember.

This critic came to the performance with the goal of hearing Beethoven, but the Nielsen was astonishing. From the very beginning, the orchestra produced a lush, rich, sound; the string section was especially noticeable for its weighty, precise playing and perfect togetherness. Indeed, at times, one could have mistaken the first and second violins playing in unison for a single instrument. The octogenarian Blomstedt, an experienced Nielsen conductor, scarcely needed to move in order to direct the orchestra’s playing. Perhaps the best moment of the piece was the beginning of the fourth movement: reminiscent of Vaughan Williams and Sibelius and played with emotion and precision by the Cleveland. The only drawback of the performance was a moment when talented brass section occasionally overshadowed the beautiful string lines. However, this minor error did not come close to undermining the power of the symphony’s performance. Fortunately, the audience gave the orchestra the recognition it deserved after the final note reverberated throughout the hall.

Put simply, the Beethoven was the best this critic has ever heard. Ever since the era of George Szell, The Cleveland Orchestra has been lauded for its rhythmically perfect and exact interpretations. This concert was no exception, for all of the string players articulated in such a manner that the notes, perfectly aligned, held great power in their accuracy alone. The most famous movement, the second movement, was played slightly faster than normal. However, this was not a problem, as it allowed Blomstedt to keep the movement from becoming bogged down and losing momentum.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this concert experience was that Blomstedt appeared to be having fun. Indeed, at the climax of the fourth movement, Blomstedt, who had stayed still for most of the performance, kicked out his leg in childlike excitement. The musicians respected this. Indeed, when this critic asked a player after the concert what he thought of the veteran conductor, he remarked, admiration in his voice, “It’s amazing to see a guy who is eighty years old work like that. The sound he gets is impressive. Really, could you imagine doing what he does when you are over eighty?”

The concert concluded marvelously. After the Beethoven concluded, the audience erupted, the first time this critic has ever heard an audience at any concert scream for the orchestra alone. Despite the less-than-full house, it seemed as though the orchestra was being treated like a rock band, and deservedly so. In a humble gesture of gratitude to the orchestra, Blomstedt stepped off of the podium and walked into the orchestra, personally thanking the last-desk players of the orchestra. Indeed, the concert was a fantastic show of Nielsen and Beethoven.

This critic would gladly pay to hear it again.

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From → Concert Reviews

One Comment
  1. Might be my favorite one. I can’t even imagine the experience of hearing it live. I would probably faint from sensory overload. 🙂

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