April 18, 2014
By Mark Satola
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Orchestra principal cello Mark Kosower was called back to the stage four times to acknowledge a huge ovation from the near-capacity audience in Severance Hall Thursday night, following his triumphant performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, with the Cleveland Orchestra under guest conductor Herbert Blomstedt.
The loud plaudits were well-earned. Soloist and orchestra were intense and luminous throughout the long score, which is perhaps Dvorak’s most personal statement.
It was written when the composer was in the United States and received word that his sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzová, with whom he’d been in love before eventually marrying her sister, was seriously ill. His inclusion in the second movement of the melody from his song “Leave Me Alone,” a favorite of Josefina’s, is his tribute to her.
Although there are plenty of passages for orchestra alone, the soloist is never out of the spotlight, and Kosower maintained an artistic concentration that was impressive. His tone was steely but warm, and, thanks to Dvorak's careful writing (and Blomstedt’s sure directorial hand), Kosower was never subsumed by the large orchestra that the composer calls for.
Dvorak infused his concerto with countless felicities, all sensitively limned by the players. While there are no standard cadenzas, the Adagio features a passage of exquisite delicacy, in which the cellist muses alone, joined first by solo flute and then other woodwinds.
Here, in this tenderest of moments, even more than in the dramatic and heroic passages of the outer movements, Kosower achieved his finest expression of the evening, beautifully capturing the composer’s note of wistfulness and regret.
Blomstedt, of course, is a familiar and welcome figure on Severance Hall’s podium. Thursday night his mastery was in evidence from the concerto’s opening bar. Orchestral balances were perfect throughout, and Dvorak’s complex rhetorical weave was always clearly delineated.
Blomstedt’s collaboration with Kosower also was notable for its communicativeness – at one point in the finale, conductor and soloist exchanged a small smile after Kosower gave a particularly fine rendering of a complex passage.
The Dvorak was clearly a tough act to follow, but Blomstedt and the orchestra pulled it off with an intense reading of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” symphony. Premiered just nine days before the composer’s unexpected death, the Symphony No. 6 has been perceived as Tchaikovsky’s cri de coeur before his purported suicide, a myth that is now generally disregarded.
Nevertheless, the score is highly dramatic and can hyperventilate if allowed, especially in the discursive opening movement, where its emotional outbursts seem a little unearned. What’s needed is firm but flexible control, keeping in check the music’s inclination toward excess while allowing its undeniable impact to have its effect.
This Blomstedt provided in spades, especially in the inner movements, a waltz in 5/4 time and a mercurial scherzo that quickly becomes a triumphant march.
Blomstedt’s tempo in the scherzo was brisk, but the orchestra met the challenge with such elan that a smattering of applause rippled through the hall, quashed quickly by Blomstedt’s outstretched hand.
The anguished finale was given as fine a reading as one could want, and the audience, as they did with earlier with Mark Kosower, brought Blomstedt back to the stage many times.