Cleveland Orchestra hosts stellar reunion with Gilbert, Weilerstein

03.16.18
Alisa Weilerstein
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Two former locals made more than good Thursday night at Severance Hall. They made excellent.

Conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Dvorak, former Cleveland assistant conductor and New York Philharmonic director Alan Gilbert evinced nothing else so much as affection, a desire to achieve and savor the ensemble's very best. Knowing full well what these players can do, he was eager and determined to get them to do it.

Cellist and Cleveland native Alisa Weilerstein, meanwhile, returned to the scene of her teenage debut and wowed another audience with a jaw-dropping performance of Barber's Cello Concerto, one that made the 1945 work sound as if it had been penned just for her.

Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 was the perfect medium for a musical reunion. Between the work's soaring melodies and abundant fire there were plenty of occasions for Gilbert to share and bask in the orchestra's sonic splendor and the sheer genius of the composer.

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Weilerstein afforded listeners a comparable moment in the Andante of the Barber Cello Concerto, a work relatively new to the orchestra's repertoire, and in her encore, the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite No. 4. Like Gilbert, she felt no urge to rush the idyllic music or to sacrifice the richness or purity of her tone.

The rest of the concerto was quite a different story. In both the first and third movements, the Cleveland-born cellist was a live wire, channeling enough musical electricity through her fingers to warrant a danger sign.

Not that there was any avoiding her performance, any means of remaining outside Weilerstein's world. Against such a kaleidoscopic display of unbridled aggression, technical freedom, and rapturous beauty, there was no resistance. All that could be done was what Gilbert and the orchestra did: join forces in like manner.

The evening began with a much different creation by Dvorak. No abstract, life-affirming symphony here. Instead, it was the orchestra's first performance of "The Water Goblin," a tone poem based on a gruesome folk tale about a spirit who takes revenge on his wife by murdering their child.
 
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