Cleveland Orchestra/Welser-Möst at Lincoln Center Festival 2011 – Bruckner: (R)evolution [Bruckner Symphony 7 & Leila Josefowicz plays John Adams’s Violin Concerto]

Violin Concerto
Symphony No.7 in E [edited Leopold Nowak]

Leila Josefowicz (violin)

Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 14 July, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Franz Welser-Möst. Photograph: Harald SchneiderThis was the second of four concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra entitled Bruckner: (R)evolution, given as part of Lincoln Center Festival 2011. Franz Welser-Möst has paired works by John Adams and Anton Bruckner to support his suggestion “that Bruckner is in many ways the grandfather of minimalism … the music of John Adams would be unthinkable without what Bruckner wrote.” These over-the-top generalizations are predicated upon identifying Adams with Minimalism (from which he has distanced himself in recent years), in which repeating rhythmic patterns create a web of sound that produces a kaleidoscopic effect often devoid of melody, and upon Bruckner’s penchant for repetitive rhythmic figuration that carries his melodic material on incrementally intensified sonic waves to powerful climaxes. However exaggerated Welser-Möst’s claims may be, his attempt to provide a musical nexus between a popular contemporary composer and Bruckner’s special brand of late romanticism has some merit.

Leila Josefowicz. Photograph: Henry FairJohn Adams’s Violin Concerto, for which he received the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 1995, is in traditional three-movement form, including a brief cadenza at the usual place near the end of the first movement. The opening is hushed, with a rustling undercurrent of pulsating rhythms in the orchestra serving as a background for the violin’s repeating figurative patterns – what Adams calls “hypermelody”. These fragmentary phrases soon transfigure into more definable contours. Quixotic mood-swings infused with weepy appoggiaturas divert momentarily from the violin’s chaotic stream-of-consciousness melodic expansion, supported by linear motion. The second movement – titled ‘Body through which the dream flows’, a line from a poem by Robert Hass that suggested to Adams “the duality of flesh and spirit…” – is a chaconne that gently stretches, compresses, and transfigures its shapes and modalities while the violin floats like a disembodied spirit about the orchestral tissue, creating a wistful dream-world. Poignant bells lend a comforting glow to the somber atmosphere that pervades the conclusion. The finale is a wild ride that surges with propulsive power, recalling Shaker Loops and a brief hint of the foxtrot from Nixon in China. Utter chaos prevails, and the violinist is challenged with a constant barrage of technically rigorous figuration. At last, trumpet tattoos enhanced by percussion enter as if to save the soloist from some undisclosed enemy. Leila Josefowicz performed this fascinating and technically exhausting work with remarkable and virtually flawless dexterity. She infused rapid-fire figuration in the outer movements with florid expressivity. Welser-Möst and the Clevelanders were able accompanists.

Bruckner’s Seventh – with its broad scope, long-lined lyricism, enormous dynamic power and building-block structural design – brings the full measure of an orchestra’s worth. Welser-Möst received the Kilenyi Medal of Honor from the Bruckner Society of America earlier this month, and during his ten years as music director he has infused the Cleveland musicians with his commitment to Bruckner’s music. The result was a stellar performance in which the strings radiated with expressive beauty in the first two movements, the woodwinds gave a chipper quality to the playful scherzo, and the brass, if sometimes a bit hard-edged elsewhere, provided a stirring reference in the Adagio (during which Wagner tubas were warm and vibrant) to Bruckner’s self-quotation from his Te Deum setting and resplendent sound for the finale’s closing moments. The only disappointments were the approach to the sky-opening pinnacle of the Adagio, which needed a touch more urgency, and the climax itself, which seemed unduly restrained.

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