Saturday night, I went to Severance Hall to see Stephen Hough perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra. Ivan Fischer was the guest conductor.
The program at Severance was all Russian. The brief excepts from Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges were played with bite and pungency. Then Stephen Hough came onstage for the Rachmaninoff.
Immediately, I knew we were in for a commanding performance. The pianist did not linger over the opening chords as is customary, but played them strictly in time. The tempo for the first movement was a bit faster then usual, and was expunged of all the “traditional” ritardandos and accellerandos that pervade all too many performances of this piece. Conversely, the second movement was a bit slower than usual. Not dragged like Pogorelich has done, but there were blessed moments of suspended animation. My only complaint was that in the slow movement’s wrap-up, the strings were too loud, so that the woodwind triplets were obscured. The finale went at a great clip, with liberal mixing of inner voices on Hough’s part. There was a brief lapse (a mis-struck bass note), which Hough acknowledged with a sheepish grin toward the conductor.
The rest of the concert went well, a rousing Stravinsky Petrouchka suite (the 1947 version) was followed by a searing performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. I must admit, after hearing how the orchestra played their hearts out under Ivan Fischer, that my first thought was that Cleveland’s powers that be should vigorously recruit him and ditch Franz Welser-Most—-who has been dubbed Frankly Worse that Most by more than one critic.