Neither heat, humidity, nor a sudden thunderstorm prevented the Cleveland Orchestra with guest pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet from dazzling at Blossom Music Center last night.
The skies darkened just as Franz Welser-Möst strode onstage to begin Beethoven’s Grand Fugue. Originally written as the final movement the Op. 130 string quartet, Beethoven eventually replaced it with a more conventional ending and published the piece separately as Op. 133. The piece is often performed in an arrangement for string orchestra, with the cello part supplemented by the double bass. As with many of Beethoven’s later works, such as the Op. 111 piano sonata, and the last few string quartets, the Grand Fugue connects with something beyond the corporeal. That feeling was enhanced when the skies opened up a few minutes into the piece. With the accompanying rain and thunder, I was reminded of the story of Beethoven on his deathbed, raising his fist at a flash of lightning.
There was a delay starting the second work, Liszt’s Dance of the Dead – first as the stagehands moved the piano to the center stage and arranged the orchestra seats, then as the first violinists took refuge from a sudden mist that invaded the pavilion. Soon enough, the orchestra returned to the stage, joined by the pianist and conductor. Thibaudet, dressed in a tastefully dazzling outfit, was a picture of fierce concentration at the keyboard. There are not many pianists who can make this piece both exciting pianistically, but convincing musically. But Thibaudet is one such artist. The thunder was an appropriate accompaniment to the storms Thibaudet created at the piano. He was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.
During the intermission, the weather calmed and skies cleared.
Following the intermission, Welser-Möst led the orchestra in a headlong performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Eschewing the first movement repeat, Welser-Möst’s tempos were swift, rhythms taut, with stark dynamic contrasts.
The finale was received with an enthusiastic response from the audience, some on the lawn still wet from the rainstorm. It takes more than a storm to come between Cleveland’s audience and their music.