After Tuesday's disappointing Bruckner, Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra returned the following day for an altogether more successful second programme. Welser-Möst has a lot of experience in the opera house and this showed both in his selection of works and the way he performed them.
Up first were two exerts from Korngold's Die tote Stadt: the prelude and Marietta's Lied. These were well played and possessed much more of the style I recall from their visit six years ago. There were nice dramatic touches, such as soprano Laura Aikin's first words coming from off-stage, then entering through the orchestra as they played. She had a small voice, but it was well suited to the part and Welser-Möst and the orchestra accompanied her sensitively.
Berg's Lulu suite followed and was similar successful, though this time Aikin's entry nearly went awry as she knocked into one of the second violins. When she sang, though, she gave a good performance, but I didn't find the piece quite so engaging. Moving her up to the side of the organ gallery at the end was a nice touch.
They finished up with Brahms' second symphony. More than anything, this showed off the superb violin sound the orchestra is capable of producing as time again they found an absolutely breathtaking sound. This was perhaps in part down to an ultra-conventional layout with the violins not divided. The flip side was that the violins dominated (as did the strings generally) and the lower strings in particular could have done with more oomph. As a whole, the Cleveland Orchestra do not, on this visit, feel like a particularly well balanced ensemble. There were flashes of the old lock-step military precision but this is not the same orchestra he brought in 2004. Whether this is a result of Welser-Möst's tenure, low morale owing to recent legal issues and strikes, or something else, it is hard to say based on such a brief snapshot. Maybe they were just having a few off days, but the fact is that when they came in 2004 they ranked as one of the finest ensembles I have ever seen; not this week. The interpretation itself was solid with a nice sense of drive and yearning, which always makes for good Brahms. And, say what you like about them, the speed at which they took the final few bars, holding together perfectly, was seriously impressive.
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