Debuts abound with sounds to delight the musical patron

Cleveland Plain Dealer, OH
March 12 2004

Debuts abound with sounds to delight the musical patron

Donald Rosenberg
Plain Dealer Music Critic

It is almost impossible to fathom that Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his
extraordinary Symphony No. 1 when he was 19. And it is equally hard
to figure out how Sergey Khachatryan, who is 19, can play Sibelius’
Violin Concerto with such astonishing mastery.

But there they were, the Russian composer and the Armenian violinist,
on the Cleveland Orchestra’s program Thursday night at Severance
Hall, providing an audience with wondrous sounds and musical ideas.
The concert held no fewer than three debuts: Khachatryan, guest
conductor Robert Abbado and Susan Botti’s “Impetuosity,” a world

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No one will argue if discussion of the violinist’s achievement comes
first. Khachatryan brought to the Sibelius concerto a blend of tonal
allure, emotional urgency and interpretive truth that lifted the
piece to the stratosphere.

Sibelius is not the composer a young violinist might be expected to
turn to when starting out on a career. The concerto challenges even
the most mature artists, its austerity of design and subtlety of
romantic expression calling for a musician of unusual insight.

Khachatryan defied every stereotype of youth. He probed deeply
beneath phrases to find the essence of Sibelius’ meaning. His
lustrous tone projected beautifully at all volumes.

The performance, quite simply, was sensational, the kind of
experience that comes along with woeful infrequency. Let’s hope
Khachatryan returns soon and often.

In the Sibelius and the night’s other works, Abbado conducted in
large, fluid gestures, sometimes drawing meaty sonorities but also
letting details become fuzzy. The Shostakovich, which should be
alternately sardonic and impassioned, received only middling
treatment, with too much vague shaping and unsettled ensemble pulling
the score to the ground.

Luckily, Botti’s “Impetuosity” remains airborne for most of its
invigorating 10 minutes. The composer, who grew up in Cleveland and
now serves on the faculty at University of Michigan, maintains a bold
and fresh sense of motion in this score. Sounds fly by in a swirl,
waltz gleefully about and head off on jazzy tangents. The only moment
of repose is a solo for the concertmaster, who has a dandy workout
before the orchestra resumes its mysterious and jaunty ride.

The program began with a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 93, in
which Abbado lavished attention on dynamics and matters of phrasing.
On the plus side, he reduced the strings to chamber-orchestra
proportions, entreated the timpani to bring utmost focus to pitches
using hard sticks, and enjoyed Haydn’s jokes.

Elsewhere, Abbado resorted to all sorts of mannerisms rather than
allow Haydn to reveal his felicitous surprises in all their natural
grace and humor.

The program is repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.