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BWW Review: Cleveland Orchestra Plays All Beethoven Concert with Yefim Bronfman


Roy Berko

A recent trip to New York included a tour of Carnegie Hall. As we entered the famous auditorium someone asked, "How are the acoustics?" The seasoned tour guide answered, "they are good, but not as good as Cleveland's Severance Hall." He went on to say, "Though this is a beautiful setting, it doesn't compare to Cleveland's Severance Hall. This was followed, about ten minutes later by the comment, "The orchestras that play here are top-notch, especially the Cleveland Orchestra." Following the tour I asked if he was a northern Ohio native. He responded that he wasn't, but came to Cleveland at least twice a year to hear the orchestra and always attended their performances in the Big Apple.

As I settled into my seat for our Orchestra's all-Beethoven program, I glanced around the grand Severance Hall and thought, "That guide was right. This place is gorgeous." Our tour guide also would have been in music heaven on Thursday night when the orchestra brilliantly played Beethoven's "String Quartet, No. 15, Opus 132," "Piano Concerto No. 3," and "Choral Fantasy."

"String Quartet, No. 15, Opus 132 was written as a quartet (two violins, one viola and one cello), that is thought to be the second of Beethoven's "late" writings for those instruments. For this concert, the Orchestra's musical director, Franz Welser-Möst, expanded the sound by adding string basses, and doubling the cello line an octave lower in many sections of the music.

An examination of the human spirit and the passion of life, it contains the feelings of struggle, remembrance, and a search for reenergizing. The mostly soothing sounds vary from loveliness, to marching, to dancing, to renewal. No sound overpowers the senses, but carries the listener on an enveloping journey.

"Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Opus 37" found Yefim Bronfman at the piano. The Russian-Israeli-American is noted for his commanding technique and exceptional lyrical playing. A bear of a man, watching him play almost contradicts the sounds that his large fingers and hands are expected to produce. Even when he is attacking the keyboard, the sounds are light and airy. The experience of hearing him interpret the Beethoven work is breathtaking.

The piece is a classic reminder that Beethoven composed his piano concertos for himself to play. This not only gave him attention as a great composer, but as a master pianist.

Piano Concerto No. 3 starts as a strings and select brass and winds rendering, without piano accompaniment, followed by the pianist interacting with the instruments. A series of piano runs then grab and hold the audience. Bronfman did not disappoint. His technique mesmerized the near sold-out audience. The orchestra responded in-kind by doing what it does best-"put on a musical feast of near perfection."

"Choral Fantasy, Opus 80" combined the skills of Bronfman on the piano, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Orchestra. The composition, which music critics claim was the forerunner to Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" and the "Ode to Joy," is "an expression of humanity's indomitable strength."

The ever-changing sounds ranged from light to sprightly to full grandeur, to a finale of emotional power. The composition, the playing, and the singing combined into a compelling experience which concluded with the audience leaping to its feet in a vocal and physical explosion of approval.

The chorus was under the direction of Robert Porco.

Before the concert the orchestra's Musical Director, Franz Welser-Möst paid tribute to his long time friend, Pierre Boulez, who passed away on January 5. The audience stood as Welser-Möst read a poem of remembrance.

Capsule judgment: Beethoven once said, "Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." If he had been present to hear his trio of pieces played by the Cleveland Orchestra and pianist Yefim Bronfman, he probably would have smiled and nodded in approval. Bravo!

The "All-Beethoven" concert was repeated on Saturday, January 9, with only the first two sections being played at the Friday morning concert.

Future Cleveland Orchestra performances:

Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony, January 14 and 15.

Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert, January 16

Ravel and Debussy, February 4, 5 6

Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart, February 11, 12, 13

Family Dance Concert-"Gotta Dance," February 26

For tickets call 216-231-1111 or go to

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