Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The regular concerts here by the Cleveland Orchestra in the late 1950s and the 1960s came to be regarded as a kind of paradigm of orchestral excellence. And with the death in 1970 of George Szell, the man who had molded the orchestra over the previous quarter century, inevitable fears set in that things could never be the same.
There have been subsequent concerts, indeed, betraying evidence that those concerns were not entirely unfounded. Thus it is particularly pleasant to report that in Monday's program at the Kennedy Center the Cleveland Orchestra sounded very much like its old, and resplendent, self. What Szell built is still intact; it just needs the right convergence of forces to bring it together.
Curiously, the capstone of the evening was a Szell specialty, the Dvorak Eighth Symphony. Interpretively, and technically, it was a performance of which Szell himself would have been proud. The sometimes offputting interpretive idiosyncracies that characterize the work of Lorin Maazel, Szell's successor, were absent --none of those arbitrary ritards and brash torrents out of the brass.
Instead the performance was intoxicatingly spontaneous. The first movement was genuinely "con brio," as marked, and the precision of the last movement was the match of any present orchestra. Maazel let the bucolic sounds of Dvorak's winds and strings sing forth.
In the solo work, Sibelius' Violin Concerto, those glowing first violins had less to do. So many of the players sat there much of the time and gaped at the virtuosity of the soloist, Viktor Tretyakov. The young Russian violinist's performance was a remarkable balance of passion with sonority and articulation.Not once did the orchestra swamp his playing, which is no mean feat.
The opening work was "Finlandia," which may seem to be a schmaltzy choice, but which sounded wonderful.