CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 1 FEBRUARY 2007
Ernö Dohnányi: Szimfónikus percek [Symphonic Minutes], Op. 36. Antonín Dvorák: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op 53; Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88. (Hilary Hahn, v.; Iván Fischer, cond.)
Antonín Dvorák, was not, it seems, a talkative man. It is said that one day he and a friend took a walk that, along one stretch, passed a wetland near the composer's country house at Vysoká, thirty-some miles south of Prague. The friend complained that he was being bitten by mosquitoes. Dvorák did not reply. Two days later the pair repeated the same walk. Again, the composer was largely silent—silent, that is, until they reached the spot by the marsh, whereupon Dvorák turned to his companion and said: "It's from the water."
Economy, reticence, simplicity: qualities of Dvorák the man and, at his best, Dvorák the composer. "To compose a Stabat Mater," he once observed, "is…better than to know Latin." And if you're in search of examples of Dvorák's understated eloquence, you'll find more than a few in his Eighth Symphony.
You can revisit the work at this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts. Before you're thirty bars into the first movement you can sense that guest conductor Iván Fischer is going to lead a lively and expeditious performance. Those accustomed to hearing, say, Christoph von Dohnányi's 1984 Cleveland recording of the work will find that Fischer offers a very different experience. Fischer's version of the symphony has, overall, a much more propulsive feel than Dohnányi's. If Fischer occasionally pushes the ensemble to the edge of disorganization, his approach has ample rewards. His treatment of the third movement Allegretto grazioso is especially infectious. If you're interested in structural and textural clarity, Dohnányi is superior to Fischer. But if your goal is simply to enjoy an evening of invigorating musicmaking, you won't go far wrong with the latter.
Fischer and the Orchestra were less convincing in the performance of Ernö Dohnányi's Symphonic Minutes which opened Thursday's concert. The second and fourth movements of the five-movement suite sounded conspicuously stiff. And instrumental balances were sometimes rather poorly calibrated.
There were fleeting moments of imprecision, too, in the orchestral accompaniment to the Dvorák Violin Concerto, though fortunately they didn't severely undermine Hilary Hahn's performance. In some respects, Hahn is cast against type in this concerto. Her playing tends to be brightly cerebral, while Dvorák's concerto seems to call for something Romantic and robust. And yet, wonderful to relate, the combination works-particularly in the work's slow movement. You could, to be sure, play this Adagio ma non troppo as a real tear jerker. But Hahn eschews theatrics, and the somewhat plainspoken statement that results sounds more heartfelt than many a more histrionic reading. The same was true of Hahn's encore: the "Malinconia" movement from Eugène Ysaÿe's second violin sonata.
One might, with apologies to Dvorák, quote a Latin proverb: "Ars est celare artem"-"Art consists in concealing art."
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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