June 18th, 2016
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — The last concerts of CityMusic Cleveland’s current season found the orchestra in exceptionally fine form in full-blooded music by Mendelssohn and Dvorak, under the leadership of music director Avner Dorman.
For this series of concerts, Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and “Scottish” Symphony No. 3 flanked a strong performance by violinist Tessa Lark of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.
Friday night’s proceedings took place in the resonant nave of Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights, with its unusually lively acoustic environment that amplified the 38-member orchestra so that it sounded like a much larger ensemble.
This was both a good and bad thing. Softer passages had a remarkable presence, with textural and contrapuntal details standing out with clarity. Louder passages, though (and in these dramatic works, there are plenty), tended to overwhelm the ear, especially in the lower end of the sound spectrum.
That said, Dorman’s interpretations of the oft-played Mendelssohn scores brought welcome vigor to the music. Dorman drew from his players an evocative reading of the “Hebrides,” with well-shaped phrasing and, where required, admirable intensity from the players. His brisk tempos in no way interfered with the music’s need to breathe.
Dvorak’s passionate Violin Concerto is a work that has long deserved a more prominent position in the repertory, and it’s gratifying to see it gaining greater currency in concert halls. Quite as serious in intent as the more frequently encountered concerto by Brahms, Dvorak’s work is a deeply felt essay that makes great technical and interpretive demands of the soloist as well as the ensemble, which must drive the drama without sonically swamping the violin.
It also has that marvelous finale, a dance-based rondo with the sort of theme that stays with you long after the music is finished.
Lark played with a maturity beyond her 26 years, and her navigation of the sprawling structure of the linked first and second movements showed a fine understanding of the composer’s dramatic intent. Her tone was rich and colorful (she played on the 1683 “ex-Gingold” Stradivarius), and more than once her confidence, as she attacked the highest reaches of her instrument, drew a murmur of appreciation from the audience.
As an encore, Lark, who hails from Kentucky, eschewed the usual Bach solo violin movement and instead kicked off her shoes (literally) and offered a classic American folk song, “Do Round My Lindy,” which she sang as well as played, followed by a fast fiddle tune that had the audience clapping along.
The return of Mendelssohn on the program brought back the Scottish theme, with his last and finest symphony, which found Dorman and the orchestra reveling in Mendelssohn’s thorough working-through of his material and his superlative orchestration. Again, tempos were very brisk, and Dorman encouraged his players to really dig into the music.
The scherzo, with its prominent “Scotch snap” rhythms, was as light and fleet as possible, while the finale marched forward at a brisk pace. The benedictory coda, in a glowing A major, was broadly measured and effective, and CityMusic’s horns earned an extra note of praise for their tonally perfect flourish of triumph.
CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra that performs free concerts throughout Northeast Ohio,often accompanied by exhibits of local artwork.
Since exploding onto the scene in 2004, CityMusic Cleveland has won cheering audiences with beautiful music, brilliantly performed in familiar neighborhood settings.
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