Cleveland Orchestra is a ringing success in Miami
Zachary Lewis / Plain Dealer
March 09, 2009
Miami -- No doubt about it: The Cleveland Orchestra and Knight Concert Hall are a great match. Even factoring out the audience, which responded to sold-out performances of an all-Beethoven program Friday and Saturday nights under Kurt Masur with sustained applause, the musical bond between them is electric.
But there's also no question the orchestra sounds much different here at the gleaming new Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts than it does at home. In fact, to a listener attuned to hearing the group at Severance Hall, the contrast is striking.
Like the sunny beaches around it, Knight Hall is a bright place. In a hall where some listeners can see the conductor's face from seats behind the orchestra, everything from the seat-backs to the stage and adjustable chandelier is made from a reflective, blondish wood that causes both light and sound to shimmer.
In this environment, which can be tweaked by means of swiveling panels, it becomes even clearer that the Cleveland Orchestra is a precision instrument. In lieu of the warm, lustrous sound that expands to fill Severance Hall, a steely purity pings the ear.
Not all repertoire sounds good here, one suspects.
Beethoven sure does, judging by these performances.
Knight's effect on Cleveland was apparent almost immediately. Both nights, within the opening measures of the "Leonore" Overture No. 3, arpeggios in the violins and flute sparkled with typical refinement, but at an ultrasoft level. Likewise, Michael Sachs' offstage trumpet sounded just as clearly as it did at Severance, only nearer and shinier.
As the piece progressed, a fuller picture of the orchestra at Knight emerged. Fluctuations in dynamics were subtle but certain, and always cohesive, as if Masur were gently turning the volume-knob on a stereo.
Wide reverberation plagued the first movement of Louis Lortie's otherwise focused account of the Piano Concerto No. 1 Friday night. Happily, the pianist adjusted quickly, and by the second, the problem faded into memory as his expressive, ruminative performance unfolded and one orchestral player after another engaged him in eloquent conversation.
Both of Lortie's performances of the Rondo were refreshingly unpredictable. Each night, the pianist applied some unique ornament or accent to a familiar phrase, enlivening the already lively score the way the hall itself amplifies sound.
But for pure orchestral music, there's nothing like the Seventh Symphony to test a space. Here, too, though, the hall flourished with its guests from Northeast Ohio even as it stood apart from Severance.
Sharp attacks and abrupt drop-offs are part of what made the orchestra's performance with Masur in Cleveland so exciting. In Miami, these traits were still in bloom, yet were somehow even more transparent.
The second movement proved a thrilling exception to the acoustic rule. Breadth and richness marked Cleveland's cellos and basses as they enunciated the music's creeping main theme. Later, every mechanism of the fugue could be heard going about its separate business at a hush.
Articulation was again crisp in the Presto. Downbeats punched, trills jabbed, and the horns rang out in golden unison. As the lilting secondary theme developed, Masur permitted savory bits of extra weight and time.
Not everything about the orchestra at Knight is different. Cell phones still go off at inopportune times and people are just as eager to cough whenever possible.
More importantly, the artistic product is the same, and the audience claps just as loudly.