Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Mahler's Fourth Symphony

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major
Dvorak: Te Deum, Op. 103
Jessica Rivera, soprano; Nathan Berg, bass-baritone; The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Franz Welser-Most, Conductor

The energy in the hall tonight struck me as weird; I couldn't quite put my finger on it, maybe it's just being out of my Saturday rhythm.

In a word, I didn't care for Mahler's Fourth. The program note relates items diverse as "Venison, Asparagus, eleven thousand virgins [...] found their special place" in Mahler's Fourth. The seeming randomness of these objects actually matches my thoughts on the first movement: That it was punctuated by too many ideas that never seemed fully developed nor were they related. The third movement meanwhile, took too long to develop a point that never seemed to be made and Ms. Rivera's entrance at the beginning of the third movement seemed odd and distracting given that she didn't sing until the fourth movement. The fourth movement was painfully slow and Ms. Rivera's vocals didn't cut through and were often lost among the orchestra.

All of those complaints out of the way, though, I did enjoy the second movement with a twinkle in the violins, and triumphant clarinets. The movement features a solo violin tuned higher than normal; the program note says "suggest[s] a country fiddler", listening to it played though I couldn't help but ponder its potential as a social commentary on the outcast from the majority. Probably reading too much into it, right? Also in this movement was a passage where the harp took the lead with the violins beautifully and near seamlessly swelling behind to fill the void.

The second piece on the program was Dvorak's Te Deum; I've long been a fan of Dvorak, but this is the first of his compositions I've heard scored for chorus. I haven't always been the biggest fan music featuring The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus so especially after the tedium (excuse the pun, please) of Mahler's Fourth I wasn't sure how I was going to take it. Where the Mahler was lethargic and boring, Dvorak's piece was anything but tedious beginning with a somewhat wild romp, by comparison and easing into the remaining three beautiful movements.

While I wasn't thrilled by the soloists, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus delivered what was perhaps the most focused and clearly intelligible performance I can recall*. From the beautiful understated passage beginning midway through the second movement ("Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis suberni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti"/"Therefore we pray you to aid your servants, whom by your blood you redeemed.") to the entirety of the third movement (Aeterna fac cum Sanctis) and culminating with the amazingly powerful, but still crystal clear "Alleljua!"
Oh, and I accidentally bought a ticket for Don Giovanni next weekend. We'll see how that goes.

*- Singing without vibrato does wonders for clarity.

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