By Lawrence Budmen 

The Cleveland Orchestra returned to the Carnival Center’s Knight Concert Hall on March 16 for the first of two performances to conclude the third week of the ensemble’s first annual Miami residency. With outreach programs in the public schools and master classes and coaching sessions at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and the New World Symphony, the Clevelanders have already made a huge contribution to music education in South Florida. For music lovers, the orchestra’s concert performances have been the real events of the season.

The Clevelanders presented an exciting climactic program with Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director of the Ft. Worth Symphony and former assistant to Kurt Masur and Esa-Pekka Salonen, on the podium for an evening of showpieces by Tchaikovsky and De Falla. 

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor is a thrice familiar warhorse. With Horacio Gutierrez at the Steinway grand, the score sounded new and freshly minted; a triumph of artistry. It is difficult to believe that Gutierrez has been a fixture of the concert stage for nearly four decades. The pianist’s technique remains intact. His artistry has only deepened. 

Gutierrez gave a terrific performance of the Tchaikovsky showpiece. Here was exciting pianism of remarkable speed, dexterity and expressive force. This concerto has not been played in such a riveting, musically captivating manner since the heyday of Vladimir Horowitz. For sheer beauty of tone, Gutierrez’s account of the Andantino was in a class by itself, enchanting and beguiling the most jaded ears. In the finale, the pianist offered a stellar demonstration of pianistic power. 

Harth-Bedoya proved an incisive, precise collaborator. The sheer sound of the Cleveland Orchestra’s glorious strings and winds was pure musical velvet. Assistant principal flutist Marisela Sager displayed purity of tone and elegance of line in the beautiful solo of the concerto’s slow movement. 

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet was a solid opener. If somewhat episodic, the performance delivered the famous love theme in glowing fashion.

Harth-Bedoya offered more than the usual three movement suite from Manuel De Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat. In extended excerpts from the 1919 ballet score, Harth-Bedoya vividly evoked the score’s ingenuous mix of Mediterranean languor and impressionistic color. A more vivacious performance of the Fandango and final Jota could hardly be imagined.

The orchestra’s scintillating string tone glistened brightly over De Falla’s balletic strophes. An elegantly spun bassoon solo by John Clouser commanded attention. Frank Rosenwein’s oboe solos – rapturous of tone and intensely expressive of utterance – were a source of marvelous enchantment. The Clevelanders brought fire and energy to every bar of De Falla’s masterpiece. 

In Russell Johnson’s rich, spacious acoustics, this great ensemble sounded truly magnificent. This evening of crowd pleasers was an invigorating conclusion to the orchestra’s initial Miami season – the centerpiece of the Carnival Center’s premier year. 


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