On Carnegie Hall’s 19-20 opening night, launching a season-long Beethoven celebration, Franz Welser-Möst led the Cleveland Orchestra in a genial program with a distinct Viennese flavor. The occasion was dedicated to Jessye Norman, who died earlier this week.
The curtain-raiser, a delightful gem, was the Overture to Otto Nicolai’s opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Clevelanders were in excellent form as Welser-Möst brought out with relish its infectious melodies and humorous representation of the titular ladies’ taunting of Falstaff. This was followed by a dreamy reading by Anne-Sophie Mutter of Beethoven’s G-major Romance, elegant and, where required, virtuosic.
The centerpiece was an engaging account of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, in which Mutter was joined by Yefim Bronfman and Lynn Harrell. Beethoven gives the cello more than an equal share of the limelight. Harrell’s instrument sang out sweetly in the first movement and the Largo’s gorgeous melody as well as delightful duets with Mutter. Bronfman played with brilliance and subtlety. The opening Allegro, although lengthy, never became dull, the soloists shining; the Largo was intensely beautiful; and the polonaise Finale was played with gusto.
To close, a Suite from Richard Strauss’s “comedy for music” Der Rosenkavalier, this one compiled by Robert Mandell (with some tweaks by Welser-Möst). Wonderfully whooping horns depicted the lovemaking of the Marschallin and Octavian in the opera’s opening measures, and thee Clevelanders swayed along with its waltz tunes. The Austrian maestro’s deep affection for this quintessentially Viennese music was evident, and he drew magnificent playing. The Suite ends with the final passage of the opera in which the Marschallin’s Page, candle in hand, seeks and finds a handkerchief and then exits as the violins accelerate into the final chords, played here with dramatic flair. Welser-Möst offered an encore, a blazing romp through Johann Strauss II’s Furioso-Polka.