By Hannah Schoepe
Romantic soundscapes sculpted by orchestral playing of the highest magnitude shaped The Cleveland Orchestra’s program on Friday evening April 21st, in Oberlin Conservatory’s historic Finney Chapel. Anticipation grew steadily as the concert hall rapidly filled with a diverse audience ranging from students, to young families, to elderly community members. Everyone eagerly awaited the downbeat that guest conductor Sir Andrew Davis would give the world-renowned ensemble.
The evening began with a performance of Frederick Delius’s Brigg Fair, An English Rhapsody, that did full justice to its British concept. The music was filled with tonal images of British culture, intermingled with Delius’s characteristically romantic writing, and refined by a touch of elegance. The piece showcased several stunning solos in the flutes and the English horn. The strings were not to be outdone, shining with a heart-rending melody that induced a tingling sense of nostalgia. They maintained astounding unity, the violins melting into one overarching voice. Sir Andrew Davis projected a wonderful sense of enthusiasm, the orchestra admirably following the cues communicated through his baton-less hands. The ending was adorned by an oboe solo, leading to a festive and brisk conclusion.
Principal oboe Frank Rosenwein took to the stage for Vaughan Williams’s Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra. The beginning immediately established Vaughan William’s British roots. The solo line mystically snuck into the scene, seemingly painting a picture of a seagull flying along a coastline. The concerto features many sensitive, quiet sections, contrasted with the occasional brash pub scene. The first movement fades quietly, giving way to a mischievous second movement. The strings articulated intertwining runs with poise and accuracy. The cello section proved to be a highlight of the movement, producing a dark, chocolate-like sound. The sprightly final movement featured more beautiful solo work from Rosenwein.
Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote was a fitting finale for this wonderful evening. Beginning with an innate sense of playfulness, the piece expands into the composer’s signature mix of chromaticism and passionate romanticism. Cello soloist Mark Kosower (Don Quixote) made a quiet entrance but became increasingly present in the middle section. The viola solo, played beautifully by Wesley Collins (Sancho Panza), broke the viola glass ceiling and shone for everyone to hear. In several magical moments, the orchestra seemed to reach for the gates of heaven, only to pause and rush back down with an aggressive chromatic attack. Kosower demonstrated masterful cello playing, his flawless technique and warm sound ringing throughout the hall. The performance brought Strauss’s imagery to life with the help of various sound effects, including a wind machine accompanied by gusting chords in the brass section. A beautiful melody brought the piece to a fantastic close. The crowd erupted in cheers, giving the performers a standing ovation accompanied by several rounds of applause.