The soprano Tamara Wilson, as Desdemona, gained authority and tonal richness as the performance went on, her high notes strong and clear. But from the start, the baritone Christopher Maltman oozed juicy seductiveness as an imposing Iago.
Jennifer Johnson Cano’s mezzo-soprano was smoothly plangent as Emilia; the tenor Pene Pati was a sweetly ingenuous Cassio. The chorus, directed by Lisa Wong, was far more nuanced than usual in this piece, even while wearing face masks; I heard harmonies in the opening scene that were new to me.
Whatever the quibbles, few ensembles are ready to do Schubert’s Ninth and “Otello” back-to-back with such accomplishment. Part of it is doubtless the enchanted, silvery atmosphere of Severance, but there is always a sense of occasion when this orchestra performs.
Not that everything is perfect. Attendance has been down this season from prepandemic averages, as it has been for many arts institutions; the question is whether those numbers will rebound or settle into a disconcerting new normal.
And while Welser-Möst has filled many important positions over the past few years, there are still a handful of openings, none more conspicuous than the concertmaster seat that has been vacant since William Preucil was fired in 2018 after an investigation revealed he had engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment. The orchestra’s principal trombonist was also fired then, for the same reason; that chair remains empty, too.
But there was nothing to fear this weekend from either of those corners of the ensemble. Peter Otto, the first associate concertmaster, gave a solo in Berg’s “Lyric Suite” — which preceded the Schubert on Friday — that had the self-effacing eloquence for which Cleveland is justly renowned. (Solos from this orchestra often, in the best way, don’t feel like solos at all.) And in the first movement of the Schubert, the trombones played with an uncanny evocation of doleful distance, as if they were on a nearby hilltop rather than right in front of us.
It speaks to the depth of this extraordinary ensemble’s roster that what should have been its weaknesses ended up as particular strengths. And it was so, so good to be back here.
Through May 29 at the Severance Music Center, Cleveland; clevelandorchestra.com.