Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Dohnanyi Conducts Beethoven's Ninth

Ligeti: Atmospheres
Wagner: Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 ("Choral")
(Meagan Miller, soprano; Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano; Eric Cutler, tenor; Iain Paterson, bass-baritone and The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director)
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor.

Periodically a word pops into my head that seems appropriate I just have to check the definition of; listening to tonight's concert gobsmacked was that word--it's definition "utterly astonished"-- perfectly applicable to tonight's nearly sold-out concert.

Based on information on the Orchestra's website shortly before the concert's start time there were only about 60 seats (plus some standing room) available in the house: Surveying the hall from the side of the Box Level, that number actually seemed high. (If you're attending any of the remaining 3 concerts this weekend, allow plenty of time: I arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before the concert and the Severance Garage was already full

The first two pieces come from different composers from different eras that when played without pause seem amazingly closely related. The program note mentions that portions of Atmospheres along with other works by Gyorgy Ligeti were used (without permission) in Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey  and in listening to the piece it's easy to understand why. The feeling throughout is of rugged darkness, as if the listener is drifting through space encountering planets and constellations along the way. Some of the sustained notes early in the piece were reminiscent of an organ, others where the wind players passed air through their instruments creating a very desolate sounding wind. A piano is found on the opposite side of the stage from its usual home--and it's played exclusively by percussionists directly manipulating its strings.

The prelude to Act I Wagner's Lohengrin, had an easy by contrast the sensation was one of being distinctly Earth bound. Instead of the isolated darkness of Atmospheres, it seemed to be the restrained glory of the first rays of sunrise wit just a hint of wind sweeping across a field of grain (that imagery may have been helped by a slight draft of pleasantly refreshing cool air at about this time in the piece.

Through both of those I think there may have been times when my heart stopped beating for fear of intruding upon the specialness of the connection between Mr. Dohnanyi and the orchestra -- there was clearly mutual respect.

Following intermission, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 -- perhaps the best known piece in the classical literature and I know a few people thing the piece has become a little overworn and threadbare -- but that couldn't be further from the truth with The Cleveland Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and Christoph von Dohnanyi. All four of the movements were wonderful but I was particularly pulled into the confident and celebratory second movement (Molto vivace--Presto--Tempo I) and, of course, the fourth movement (Presto--Allegro assai--Presto, Finale on Schiller's Ode to Joy) which brought out the full and unrestrained power of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. The balance between orchestra and chorus was spot on with occassional explosions of vocal energy to hit home the point.


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