By Lawrence Budmen

One of the musical high points of last season was the Cleveland Orchestra’s inaugural residency at the Miami’s Carnival Center. That stellar ensemble’s opening concert was capped by a divinely inspired performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. For its first commercial recording in nearly seven years, the Clevelanders taped a live performance of that monumental Beethoven creation in Cleveland’s Severance Hall (just a few weeks before their Miami visit) for Deutsche Grammophone ( The recording vividly captures the warm, mellow sound of this great ensemble – our most classical of American orchestras. Franz Welser-Most’s intense conducting produces a Beethoven 9th for the ages, enhanced by the molten clarity of the justly famous Severance acoustic. This is Beethoven a la Toscanini – tautly paced, crystal clear in instrumental textures, and deeply impassioned. To listen to the serene, lyrically expansive line of Welser-Most’s traversal of the third movement Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante moderato is to be transported to heaven. Beethoven’s ode to the brotherhood of man is given joyous, full throated voice by the excellent Cleveland Orchestra Chorus under its inspired choir master Robert Porco. The rotund basso-cantante of Rene Pape leads a distinguished solo quartet. Frank Lopardo (long known for his patrician performances in Mozart, Donizetti, and Verdi operas) is a heroic tenor soloist. The radiant vocal hues of soprano Measha Brueggergosman and honeyed tonal palette of mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor round out the solo roster. This is a superbly produced recording of an unforgettable performance – a wonderful souvenir of the Cleveland-Miami relationship (Welser-Most and the Cleveland Orchestra return to the Carnival Center on January 25-26 and February 1-2, 2008. See for concert information) 

The extraordinary pianist Evgeny Kissin’s incandescent recital was another memorable musical moment of Miami’s 2006-2007 season. Kissin is nothing short of a magician of the keyboard – our modern day, 21st century Vladimir Horowitz. For his first recording on his new label EMI Classics ( Kissin turns to the concertos of Mozart and Schumann. Mozart is rare pianistic terrain for Kissin. Yet the introspective Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor fits him like a glove. To hear his exquisitely shaded, quirky take on Mozart’s moodily stylized classicism is to hear the work freshly minted and reborn. Like Piotr Anderszewski and Peter Serkin, Kissin approaches the score as a grandly romantic work light years ahead of its time (1786). Kissin brings plenty of stormy, power driven passion to the score but can weave the most haunting of cantabile lines in the Larghetto. Accompanied by that most protean of Mozartians Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, this performance blazes with the power of Beethoven. Kissin and Davis also offer a tempest tossed rendition of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. This is not prettified Schumann of the textbook variety. Kissin’s performance (taken at slower, more measured tempos than the prevailing norm) exudes poetry and fire in equal measure. The searing Allegro vivace finale holds the thunder of Brahms without bombast. Kissin has done it again, making the listener rethink thrice familiar music – a pianistic genius indeed! Veteran producer Jay David Saks taped this impetuous Kissin-Davis collaboration at white heat during concert performances at London’s Barbican Hall in January, 2006. 

Two seasons ago a transformed Orchestre National de France appeared in South Florida under the commanding baton of Kurt Masur. Once a mediocre ensemble, the Paris based orchestra essayed a Franck-Ravel program with power and virtuosity that ranked it with the world’s best ensembles. A new Beethoven disc for Naďve ( gives evidence anew of this orchestra’s world class status. Masur is a great orchestra builder. Conducting his core repertoire, the French ensemble blossoms with glowing luster, rich strings and sweet toned winds producing the most crystalline of sounds. The Symphony No.6 in F Major (Pastoral) has long been a Masur specialty. (I recall a wonderfully lyrical performance by Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Carnegie Hall.) Masur brings his accustomed vigor and incisive energy to Beethoven’s evocation of nature, the final Hymn of Thanksgiving attaining eloquence and exaltation. More surprising is Masur’s expertly balanced leadership of Beethoven’s Symphony No.2 in D Major (the recording’s companion piece). Lyricism and wit abound in Masur’s loving account. Radio France has documented the landmark Masur-Orchestre National relationship with these live February, 2006 performances. Beethoven’s remarkable symphonies continue to astound when brought so dynamically to life.

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