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Ionarts at Large: Cleveland Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival

The chill of the surrounding rock in the refreshingly cool and coolly lit Felsenreitschule necessitated a fastening of shawls and pashminas. With a few pieces of the Romeo & Juliet set dangling, Damocles sword-like, above the Cleveland Orchestra’s double bass section (it would be such a pity), Franz Welser-Möst got to show the international audience at the Salzburg Festival what he can do with his “other”, American orchestra in direct comparison to the Vienna Philharmonic’s performances. Judging from their second of three programs on August 24th and their performance week before when they were on opera-duty for Rusalka, America’s youngest of the “Great Five” orchestras can teach their Old Europe counterparts lessons in nuance, luminosity, subtlety, transparency, and delicacy. At least this is true compared to the Vienna Philharmonic’s operatic guise as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra which I last heard under Thielemann (Parsifal: brilliant, though sloppy) and Segerstam (Tristan: very modest).

The Cleveland Orchestra, at least under Welser-Möst – is not a terribly exciting orchestra and it won’t likely be caught probing the emotional extremes of any given score. But boy, do they sound splendid in what they do. The music they play is made to sound its very best, whether the Andante of the 10th Symphony of Franz Schubert (performing version by Brian Newbould), Bela Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin, Bartók’s Viola Concerto, or Johann Strauss’ Emperor Waltz.

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