CLEVELAND, Ohio – We may never know exactly what the composers thought when they wrote the music for this week’s Cleveland Orchestra program. Indeed, some of their intentions remain the subject of vigorous academic debate.
Fortunately, there is no doubt about the performance. Headed by lucid guest conductor Jakub Hrusa, the orchestra on Thursday evening at Severance Hall ensured that the three diverse works on the program fit together with lively and direct force.
With just one track, of course, Hrusa didn’t have to work too hard. Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra is not only a light and effervescent work that does not pretend to have a deep meaning. Renowned pianist Emanuel Ax was also present on Thursday to give him all the clarity and vitality he needed.
The evening couldn’t have started more alluring. From its hushed first bars to its tumultuous top and back, Miloslav Kabelac’s “Mystery of Time”, a giant passacaglia from 1957, has gripped mind and ear, demanding both contemplation. itself and the cosmos that inspired it.
The subject may have been the distant workings of the universe, but the performance was bold and immediate. The strings created bright and magical atmospheres, the woodwinds, brass and drums were electrifying, and the entire ensemble performed a gloriously nuanced ascent to a thundering climax. Thanks, Hrusa, for bringing Kabelac to Cleveland.
Thanks also to Ax for return in Cleveland. Almost a year to the day since his last appearance here, the pianist returned on Thursday to once again captivate Severance Hall with a sparkling and dynamic interpretation of Stravinsky’s Capriccio, and as a reminder, Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat. major, D. 935.
Axis and the orchestra were both fully in Stravinsky’s mind. With evident affection, they relished the playful and unpredictable nature of the music, loving the whiplash induced by sudden turns and explosions. They also savored the Andante, infusing it with a sparkling elegance and a touch of neoclassical grace most appreciated on an otherwise heavy slate.
Questions of intention may still surround Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5, but there was no mistake about the performance of the orchestra. If Hrusa, conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, had been in charge of the work’s premiere, as he was on Thursday evening, it is unlikely that anyone could have detected nationalist optimism or tow of the ruling party line.
Indeed, Hrusa’s was a fierce and punchy performance, one that didn’t seek to appear pretty or keep her emotions in check. Picking up Shostakovich where he left off a few years ago with director Franz Welser-Most, Thursday’s orchestra still sounded so beautifully raw, icy and mocking.
Not that beauty is rare. Along the way, many moments and expanses of exquisite, even heartbreaking tenderness, and the virtuosity that the ensemble exhibited under Hrusa was a joy to behold. Every section and soloist that Hrusa noted during the applause deserved this recognition.
Ditto Hrusa himself. No doubt about it. In this listener’s opinion, with her fresh repertoire and unfailing energy, Hrusa is welcome in Cleveland anytime.
What: Jakub Hrusa conducts Kabelac, Stravinsky and Shostakovich
When: 8 p.m. Saturday November 17 and 3 p.m. Sunday November 18
Or: Separation Room, 11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $ 21 to $ 165. Go to clevelandorchestra.com or dial 216-231-1111.