Monday, December 22, 2008

December 20, 2008

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CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 11/28/08Listen to Considered Opinions

Erkki-Sven Tüür: Aditus. Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 61. Igor Stravinsky: Pètrouchka; Scherzo à la russe. (Christian Tetzlaff, v.; Paavo Järvi, cond.).

"Folksy peasants, pure of mind, body and spirit romp about like so many Kansas corn huskers in Eastern European drag." Such was Lillian Hellman's scathing description of the 1943 filmThe North Star. And Hellmann ought to have known. She had written the script. But Hollywood had gotten hold of what was originally envisioned as a stark and serious production. Spectacle took the place of seriousness. In the midst of war, this story of a Ukrainian village resisting Nazi invasion garnered half a dozen Oscar nominations. But much had been lost along the way.

One of the things abandoned was a score by Igor Stravinsky, who had been replaced by Aaron Copland because of contractual and script-related differences. But Stravinsky, seeing no reason for good music to go to waste, recycled part of his North Star score as the Scherzo à la Russe,which guest conductor Paavo Järvi includes on this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts.

Järvi uses the Scherzo as a sort of programmed encore following his not-quite-complete rendition of the 1947 Pétrouchka. Järvi's Stravinsky is both robust and deliberate. He gets better results in the ballet than in the somewhat heavy-handed Scherzo. Not surprisingly, Pétrouchkasounds less modern under his baton than it does on the highly regarded Pierre Boulez-Cleveland Orchestra recording. But what Järvi sacrifices in analytical precision he makes up for in narrative vividness. After hearing this richly colored Pétrouchka, you'll think you've been to see the ballet.

This weekend's concerts also feature Christian Tetzlaff's performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And if you heard Gil Shaham perform this music last year at Severance Hall, you might find Tetzlaff equally satisfying, completely different, and, yes, a bit offbeat. Tetzlaff's Beethoven seems far more introverted than Shaham's. There's no flashy virtuosity here: just a provocative reading that brings out the gentle and cerebral sides of the concerto. On repeated hearings, Tetzlaff's discursive Larghetto could prove wearing. So could the rather odd first-movement cadenza for violin and timpani that he's arranged from Beethoven's piano-concerto version of the work. But Tetzlaff's is an interesting alternative approach, easily meriting the encore elicited on Friday by the audience's enthusiasm: the Andante from Bach's Unaccompanied Violin Sonata BWV 1003.

Perhaps the most memorable component of the program was the curtain-raiser: Aditus, by Järvi's Estonian compatriot Erkki-Sven Tüür. In Järvi's recording of the work with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Aditus comes off as ten minutes of unbridled energy. Friday evening's Aditus seemed altogether subtler: a product of careful and ingenious craftsmanship.

When Lillian Hellman lashed out at Samuel Goldwyn over the final version of The North Star, the eminent producer retorted: "My name is Samuel Goldwyn and I do not turn out junk!" Judging from Aditus—as well as the handful of other works by the composer that I've heard—neither does Erkki-Sven Tüür.

I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.

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