CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 1/22/09
Claude Debussy: "Sirènes." Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Leos Janácek: Glagolitic Mass. (Leif Ove Andsnes, p.; Measha Brueggergosman, sop.; Nancy Maultsby, m-s.; Stuart Skelton, ten.; Raymond Aceto, b.; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
British Star Trek fans must have heaved a great sigh of relief. Last week the Independent reported that an electronics company would market computer keyboards designed for typing in the Klingon alphabet. And there are few things, I imagine, more frustrating than trying to read someone's handwritten Klingon.
I don't know whether it's possible to purchase a keyboard designed for typing in the Glagolitic alphabet—the exotic-looking writing system that gave its name to Leos Janácek's Glagolitic Mass. But if we didn't know that opera was the Klingons' preferred art form, we might well think them capable of producing music such as this: a mix of the primal and the archaic likely to appeal to fans of Carmina Burana.
Despite the enthusiastic contributions of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Franz Welser-Möst's Glagolitic didn't equal his interpretations of the other "big" works he and the Orchestra are taking to Carnegie Hall. The vocal sections of the work—particularly the nicely shaped "Agnece Bozij"—fared best in Thursday evening's performance. It was no surprise, given her superb Wesendonck Lieder two weeks ago, that the standout in an otherwise unremarkable vocal quartet was soprano Measha Brueggergosman. She didn't quite capture the hieratic tone of some of this music, but you'd be hard pressed to find a performer who better conveys the joy in the opening stanza of the "Slava." Welser-Möst's "Intrada," however, didn't really gel the first time through—though fortunately, in the Paul Wingfield edition used here, the orchestra gets two stabs at the movement. There was a distinct lack of ceremony in the unusually hectic "Introduction." Joela Jones' organ solo—an edgy toccata that ought to be at the emotional core of the work—seemed cautious and tepid. This is not an unenjoyable Glagolitic, but it is an uneven one.
The performance of Debussy's "Sirènes" that opened the concert was, like last week's "Nuages," a nicely detailed affair. But it was a classical warhorse—Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto—that turned out to be the program's most memorable component. Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes doesn't offer fiery impetuosity or spiritual rapture in this concerto. Instead, clarity is the order of the day. He brings plenty of power to Rachmaninoff's virtuosic climaxes, but his impressive technique ensures that the music never degenerates into an undifferentiated wall of sound. Textures and musical lines always remain clear.
The rhetoric of these big, heroic piano concertos can seem, at the distance of a century, as overheated as a Latin American telenovela. But Andsnes renders the Rachmaninoff Third with a sense of balance, economy, and polish that's more impressive than mere spectacle. Lesser pianists who essay this music can be far more intent on showing off their bag of tricks. And in the end they begin to approximate the pianist in the Monty Python sketch who plays the Tchaikovsky First as he tries to escape from a sack, three padlocks, and a pair of handcuffs.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
Considered Opinions Main Page
Considered Opinions Archive
Considered Opinions Podcast