by Mike Telin

COYO-FEDDECK-MastroianniIt is no secret that Tchaikovsky was frequently plagued with self-doubt, and while writing his Fifth Symphony the composer was also struggling to make sense out of the cards that fate had dealt him in life. On Sunday, March 10 at Severance Hall, one was never in doubt that The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) under the direction of James Feddeck was in anything but complete command of this monumental work. From the opening “fate” theme played exquisitely by the clarinets, to the finale triumphal march, the performance was electrifying.

Feddeck’s straightforward approach to the symphony was a breath of fresh air, as far too often Tchaikovsky’s passionate music suffers from over-indulgent interpretations from the podium. Throughout, Feddeck drew a full, rich sound from his musicians who played with confidence and rhythmic accuracy. The lyrical horn solo in the 2nd movement was brilliantly played by Leo Steinkerchner and bassoonist Stuart Englehart performed with aplomb during the waltz. Bravos also go out to flutist Elise Campbell, oboist Mary O’Keefe, clarinetist Alexandria Ballinger and to the entire brass section for jobs well done. In short, this was a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 to remember.

The second half of the program featured two contrasting works for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms and Howard Hanson.

Composed in 1880-81, Brahms Nänie, (Song of Lamentation), op. 82 with text from a poem by Friedrich Schiller, like all of Brahms choral music – and the Tchaikovsky – deals with the subject of fate: Even beauty must die. The outstanding Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus sang with a warm, blended sound and crisp German diction. Their “s” sounds were particularly impressive. James Feddeck lead an impressively shaped and impeccably balanced performance.

The Chorus had a chance to show off another side of their diction skills, this time in English, during Howard Hanson’s Song of Democracy. Written in 1957 on a commission from the National Education Association and the Music Educators National Conference, Hanson cleverly utilizes the text from two poems by Walt Whitman, An Old Man’s Thought of School and Thou Mother With Thy Equal Brood, Part 4 from Leaves of Grass. Singing in one’s native language is full of potential pitfalls as our everyday speaking style simply does not translate to decipherable performances. However the Chorus outdid themselves and sang with such clarity that following the printed text was, for the most part, unnecessary. As in the Brahms, James Feddeck kept the balances between chorus and orchestra in check. This is was an impressive performance of a work that, like a lot of Hanson’s music, deserves to be programmed more often.

Hearty congratulations go to Lisa Wong, who is in her first season as director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus. This is an impressive ensemble that I look forward to hearing again.

Published on March 26, 2013

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