Reprinted from yesterday's late editions A person sitting with closed eyes throughout Thursday night's all Brahms program at the Kennedy Center would have had some reason to wonder if the players hadn't gotten fed up and switched conductors at intermission - and somewhat for the better. But even the improvemenr in the second half didn't save the evening from disappointment.
It's just that Loren Maazel's conducting of the Fourth Symphony in the final part at least made interpretive sense. Whereas his performances beforehand didn't.
The program opened with a stiff redition of the normally blazing Tragic Overture, of so little intensely that it might as well have been called Serious Overture.
Time and again Maazel seemed more interested in clarity than content. Phrases didn't so much ruse and fall as just begin and end. Rhythms often failed to spring. The message of the music slipped most of the time. In the Variations on Theme by Haydn the nervous [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the penultimate [WORD ILLEGIBLE] is meant to prepare us for the confident reassurance of the finale was utterly lost in the stodgy tempo and lack of inflection. It's like taking the shadows out of a Rembrandt.
In the symphony Maazel was at least throwing himself into the music. If a little show for my taste, the performance was at least passionate and lyrical.
There was one other problem. Normally the Cleveland Orchestra is brilliant at surmounting Brahms' musical obstacle courses. But in the Center's week-long Brahms Festival there is so little time for rehersal that imprecisions are inevitable, and stumbles in the horms dotted Thursday night's concert. On television, I once heard the late George Szell begin a rehersal by proudly declaring, "Gentlemen, we will simply play this work the way the Cleveland Orchestra plays it." Thursday night they didn't have a chance to reach that exalted standard.