Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: The Planets: An HD Odyssey

Saariaho: Asteroid 4179: Toutatis
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 ("Jupiter")
Holst: The Planets*
* - With the women of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Hans Graf, conductor.

"We have standing-room available" is a phrase I'd love to hear from the Orchestra's box office more frequently... of course as was the case today, preferably, after I've purchased my tickets!

Having gone through a bit of orchestral withdrawal over the past few weeks, I was eagerly awaiting my return to Severance Hall. I am a bit curious as to how this concert earned the Musically Speaking caption, as unlike other Musically Speaking concerts this one didn't really provide an educational background to the music. Semantics aside, during the second half of the concert I'm not sure of an appropriate adjective (but I'll sure try!).

But before I get ahead of myself, the first part of the program: Saariaho's Asteroid 4179 was pleasantly short and evoked sounds typical of "space music"; so familiar sounding was it that I could have sworn that I had heard it before; checking my notes however it seems I had not. I would be interested in hearing it again.

Mozart's Symphony 41, known in the English-speaking world as Jupiter sounded beautiful--particularly the first movement--but some of the themes were a bit repetitive for my taste, and the overall sound struck me as a bit too sentimental: Fine in short bursts but a bit wearing for an entire symphony.

Following an intermission where I caught up with some familiar faces in an adjoining box, was Holst's The Planets beautifully paired with high definition imagery from NASA. Sitting in the darkened hall I was both spellbound and mesmerized. Some movements the music was breathtaking, other movements the imagery stole my air, but the net result was that at the end of the 7 movements (Earth and Pluto omitted) my instinct to breathe had been suppressed long enough that I was gasping for air. Of the seven movements, I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the first two (Mars, The Bringer of War, an aggressive, unbalanced bit of music and Venus: The Bringer of Peace where my eyes slipped between the grace of the orchestra and the beauty of the imagery) the circus-like feeling brought along with Uranus: The Magician, but I think my favorite movement was Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity, light, playful, triumphant, cinematic, and bold without being brash, I can't think of anything missing.

Though the final movement, Neptune: The Mystic didn't excite me to the same level, it's worth noting the fantastically ethereal, indeed mystical, sense lent to the movement by the off-stage (presumably from the organ chamber if my ears are to be trusted) voices of the women of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.


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