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Assured and confident

James Gaffigan conducts the Cleveland Orchestra,
reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ


More than one orchestral conducting career has been founded -- or at least been given a push upwards -- by an indisposition of the originally scheduled conductor. To be sure, James Gaffigan, Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, was already off to an auspicious start in his conducting career, and didn't really need the boost offered by the ear infection that kept Music Director Franz Welser-Möst at home in Austria. With only a slight change to the scheduled program (Debussy instead of Berg) the new year of 2006 at Severance Hall got off to a rousing start.

The young (26) maestro was assured and confident on the podium, even though he hadn't planned to be there this week. Not even the prospect of a US première of a piano concerto seemed to daunt him. This week, too, he embarked on a new style for him -- sans baton. Well, if it works for Pierre Boulez, why not for James Gaffigan?

The two movements of Printemps ('Spring') by the French Impressionist Debussy were his third such use of that name for a composition. Nearly twenty years later it was orchestrated by his compatriot, Henri Büsser. What we hear is certainly reminiscent of Debussy, but a Germanic-sort of Debussy. Rather than the transparency (layers of chiffon, perhaps) we automatically think of in connection with this composer, we are treated here to a opaque, brocade version.

Perhaps because only a piano duet version survived, M Büsser utilizes two pianists at the one instrument, along with the normal orchestra. Nice touch, that. The second movement had a little march which was played with appropriate French insouciance and lightness. Overall, the piece is interesting, even if not what we're accustomed to hearing when we think of Debussy. It was certainly well-played.

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Copyright © 9 January 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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