Cleveland Orchestra and BSO
C. Bach Sinfonia, an orchestral arrangement of Beethoven's ''Grosse Fuge,'' and Dvorak's Symphony ''From the New World.'' Their performance shed light all over the musicmaking that went on three days earlier.
That's when the Boston Symphony Orchestra had played J. S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E flat, as arranged for large orchestra by Schoenberg, and Schumann's Symphony No. 3, as well as the premiere of a new symphony, commissioned for the orchestra's centennial, by Olly Wilson.
What became apparent from this nearly back-to-back performing was how remarkably drilled, fit, and inspired the Cleveland has kept itself despite being without a music director for more than two seasons. It also became clear that the BSO can sound quite shopworn and smudged in the hands of its music director, Seiji Ozawa.
Paradoxically, the Boston Symphony is probably a better orchestra. For sheer versatility and that mellifluous Boston sound and some individual playing, it holds out a promise of great things. You couldn't prove it by the performance it cranked out last Friday afternoon, however.
The Bach Prelude and Fugue was a victim of blurred lines and some confusion in the ranks. At times, it flowed like mud. Olly Wilson's Sinfonia sounded a bit elliptical and vague in the first movement. The piece hovered around too prettily for my tastes; and the last movement jitterbugged to no apparent destination. The reading of the Schumann Symphony was large and expressive, better in the details than the Bach, which had bordered on the disorderly, but not by much.
On the other hand, the Cleveland Orchestra brought a clarity and grace to J. C. Bach's Sinfonia for Double Orchestra that kept one's attention riveted in the strings. The two halves of the orchestra worked together in almost perfectly articulated dialogue. The Cleveland's new music director, Christoph Dohnanyi, seemed deeply schooled in the line and character of this music.
Beethoven's ''Grosse Fuge'' proved a daring, if not totally well-advised, undertaking. Even as a quartet, this rugged, enigmatic work is frequently called motoric and unplayable. Monday night, it almost came to that. The orchestral version is fiendishly difficult, and I'm not sure it can be brought off. It certainly doesn't do justice to the almost mad power of the piece.
In friendlier territory for an orchestra, Dvorak's Ninth Symphony, went brilliantly, with much passion and some ravishing solo work, until late in the Scherzo - and very well indeed after that.