Saturday, 25 August 2018



CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio -- Saturday night at the Blossom Music Center, the Cleveland Orchestra and guest conductor James Gaffigan opened their concert with a powerful reading of one of Samuel Barber's most powerful works, the Essay No. 2 for orchestra.

Into roughly ten minutes, Barber packs a musical and dramatic experience so complete that it has an impact almost equivalent to a symphony. Under Gaffigan's baton, the work's dense concentration of thought and emotion was unpacked with impressive assurance, aided by brilliant playing from the orchestra.

From the plaintive pastoral woodwinds that introduce the piece to the overpowering climax, conductor and orchestra played with precision and attention to detail. The contrapuntal scherzo that leads to the final cataclysm was particularly well delineated and paced.

It was one of those singular moments you occasionally encounter in concert-going, wherein it almost seems unnecessary to hear the rest of the concert. This performance of the Essay had a completeness and finality about it that superseded the format in which it was presented.

Of course the show must go on, and so it did, with a quicksilver performance of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 by English piano virtuoso Stephen Hough. It's a work of great lightness, one that at every moment seeks (quite successfully) to please its audience, and as such was the perfect foil to the big musical doings that preceded it.

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