By Lawrence Budmen

Music history was made in Miami on January 19 as The Cleveland Orchestra, one of the nationís premier ensembles, began its first annual residency at the Carnival Center. The Clevelandersí opening concert was nothing short of fabulous! A more gleaming showcase for this superlative ensemble than the Knight Concert Hall could hardly be imagined. The hallís clear, warm, deeply reverberant acoustics displayed the musicians at their very best. Unique among American orchestras, the Clevelandís sound epitomizes European classicism in the great tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Dresden Staatskapelle. The ensembleís strings spin tonal melismas with silken purity. Brasses are mellow while the winds exude a sweetness of timbre that is instantly recognizable as ďthe Cleveland sound.Ē 

The orchestraís youthful Austrian born music director Franz Welser-Most is a musician of rare insight. His clear, precise baton technique exercises flawless control over the ensemble without overblown, flamboyant gestures. Conducting this Rolls Royce of orchestras, Welser-Most produces music making of the most stellar variety. 

After a stirring performance of The Star-Spangled Banner, Welser-Most imbued Leonard Bernsteinís Jeremiah: Symphony No.1 (1944) with eloquence. In the opening Prophecy, Bernsteinís flights of inspiration were conveyed with arching lyricism. For once the Profanation was not a balletic romp but a dramatic peroration. Mezzo-soprano Kelley OíConnor was fiercely emotive in the concluding Lamentation. OíConnorís dusky, sumptuous voice took wing in Bernsteinís deeply felt setting of the Lamentation of Jeremiah. Under Welser-Mostís inspired baton, the concluding woodwind theme was haunting and spellbinding. Conductor and orchestra produced the finest performance of this seminal Bernstein work in this listenerís experience. 

For Beethovenís monumental Symphony No.9 in D Minor (Choral), Welser-Most adopted the revisionist view of Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner. The conductorís whirlwind tempos were exhilarating; yet the minutest instrumental details were finely etched. The opening Allegro ma non troppo was lithe and bright without ever seeming rushed. In the Scherzo, the violinsí crisp articulation and rhythmic bounce was awesome. Welser-Most brought flowing lyricism and other worldly pathos to the Adagio. The finale (based on Schillerís Ode to Joy) was projected with super charged intensity. Welser-Mostís brisk tempos and bright instrumental colors were bracing. 

The combined forces of the Master Chorale of South Florida and the University of Miami Frost Chorale under the direction of Jo-Michael Scheibe produced thrilling panoply of choral sonorities. Welser-Most drew extremes of dynamics from superlative full voiced exclamations to the most hushed pianissimos. 

A superb solo quartet did full justice to Beethovenís often cruelly difficult vocal writing. Measha Brueggergosmanís exquisite high tones and mellifluous vocal hues catapulted the soprano part to star status. OíConnor firm mezzo provided solid support. Frank Lopardoís patrician artistry, peerless musicianship, and robust tenor voice were riveting in the alla Marcia episode. Rene Papeís suave bass and fiery declamation set Beethovenís ode to the brotherhood of man into incandescent orbit.

The inspired baton of Franz Welser-Most and the dazzling music making of the Cleveland players have opened a new musical era for South Florida. As these artists teach and interact with the community, our artistic arena will be immeasurably enriched. 

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