CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 22 FEBRUARY 2007
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23; Manuel de Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat (selections). (Horacio Guitérrez, p.; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, cond.)
The nineteenth-century was already halfway over when Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, a young Spanish writer who had moved to Madrid just a year before, faced a rival journalist in a duel. His opponent, the Venezuelan-born José Heriberto García de Quevedo, had survived many such trials of honor. Alarcón, on the other hand, had almost no experience with guns. Nobody was surprised when Alarcón, who fired first, missed his target completely. Fortunately for posterity, García de Quevedo was in a chivalrous mood. He raised his gun and deliberately shot it into the air. Thus it was that Alarcón survived to write the masterpiece for which he is best remembered today: the comic novel The Three-Cornered Hat.
The novel became the basis for a ballet by Manuel de Falla, which you can sample at this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts. Guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads about twenty-five minutes of music from The Three-Cornered Hat in his first Severance Hall performances. It's a promising debut. At its best, Harth-Bedoya's conducting is impressively lucid. If, in some post-apocalyptic world, you sought a performance from which to reconstruct Falla's score, a Harth-Bedoya recording might prove particularly serviceable. If some of Thursday evening's dynamic and rhythmic transitions were slightly awkward, there was more than adequate consolation in hearing details of orchestration that could easily have disappeared into the background.
The same degree of clarity marked Harth-Bedoya's performance of Tchaikovsky's portrait of feuding, dueling families: the Romeo and Juliet fantasy-overture. To be sure, this audience favorite seemed at times a little rushed, and, like the reading of The Three-Cornered Hat, it was not notable for rhythmic subtlety. But it made up for these shortcomings with its avoidance of syrupy sentimentality and its transparent texture.
In the second half of Thursday's concert, pianist Horacio Guitérrez joined Harth-Bedoya in that quintessential Romantic warhorse, the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. When the Orchestra last performed this concerto—at Blossom in 2005—Lang Lang was the embarrassingly self-indulgent soloist. Guitérrez is, thankfully, a musician of a far more levelheaded character. No, he doesn't quite find the poetry in this work that some pianists do. There's a hint of ponderousness, for example, in the way he handles the first movement's second theme. And his long cadenza at the end of the first movement and his playing in the second-movement Prestissimo don't have the freshness and spontaneity of the best recorded versions. Nonetheless, this is a consistently reliable performance which manages the trick of being assertive, dramatic, but not bombastic.
One can only guess that, when the Orchestra takes this repertoire to Miami next month, audiences will judge the result—to use a phrase from another famous duel—"a hit—a very palpable hit."
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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