Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Alan Gilbert conducts Mahler's Seventh

Ravel: Mother Goose [Ma Mere l'Oye] (complete ballet music)
Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Alan Gilbert, Conductor (replacing the previously announced Pierre Boulez).

I'm rather tense this week -- I have confirmed week-long trips to Phoenix and Northern California in the next six or so weeks and an almost certain trip to Vancouver (the one in Canada) somewhere between those two, with its own set of questions [I've not yet utilized the passport collecting dust on my desk for the past 4 years]. Thus, while I was intrigued by this week's concert I was never really able to relax enough to really get into the music.

Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic and former Cleveland Orchestra assistant conductor substituted for the originally programmed Pierre Boulez. For the second year in a row, Mr. Boulez withdrew from the program on medical advice -- and despite several months notice in this case, I still walked into a patron berating a hapless usher about the substitution during intermission who was doing her best to diplomatically disengage.

One of the reasons I was intrigued by the concert is a recurring rumor in a few of the circles I keep my ear to is that Mr. Gilbert may be on the short list considered upon the expiration Franz Welser-Most's contract after the 2017-18 season.

Anyway, back to the music: I generally like music from ballets due to the inherent motion of dance -- after all, some of my favorite pieces that I've yet to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play (e.g. Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid) came from ballets. Tonight's performance of the complete ballet music to Ravel's Mother Goose, though, seemed nearly as tense as I was for the first five movements. Things opened up for the sixth movement (Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas) which had a delightful and impossible to miss Asian flair, and the final movement (The Enchanted Garden) with beautiful solo violin work and a climatic ending.

I had hoped that the more relaxed air would carry forward to the Mahler, however that did not seem to be the case. The first movement was seemingly eternal, lonely, dark and depressing. The second movement lightened the mood a bit with a fluttering sense and uncharacteristic clanking metal, as if a hubcap falling off a well-worn car, it did not evoke a feeling of "Night Music".

The death grip of tension loosened a bit in the third movement which played out exactly as per the tempo notation found in the program -- "Shadowy, Vaguely, Flowing buy not fast". Likewise, the fourth movement had an enchanting air and, as Night Music II, had more of a sense of being night music than it's predecessor. Contributing to the enchanting air -- and a sound I couldn't pinpoint at first -- were a guitar and ukulele hidden amongst the violins.


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