CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 8 FEBRUARY 2007
Robert Schumann: Manfred Overture. Maurice Ravel: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G major. Gabriel Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande. (Angela Hewitt, p.; Philippe Jordan, cond.)
"So far as I am concerned, I don't understand music. I consider it quite unnecessary noise." Thus spoke the Belgian playwright, poet, and theoretician Maurice Maeterlinck, just over a month after he was awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize for Literature. Mind you, he had an excuse for being a bit tetchy. A reporter for the New York Times had pounced on him as he stepped out of his train in a Paris station. In those days, the media followed Maeterlinck's movements with a degree of attention we might currently associate with TomKat or Brangelina.
Nearly a century later, it's that "unnecessary noise" that perhaps best perpetuates Maeterlinck's memory, at least among those who aren't students of literary Symbolism. Debussy, Sibelius, Schoenberg, Cyril Scott—all wrote music based upon Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande. So, too, did Fauré. And Severance Hall patrons can sample the suite from Fauré's incidental music for Pelléas at this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts.
The program is led by the Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan. (Yes, I'm told his name should be pronounced to sound as American as "Toledo, Ohio.") And the Fauré turns out to be the highlight of Jordan's Severance Hall debut. Jordan has a particularly winning approach to the suite's Prélude. Thursday evening's performance was tastefully colored, without a hint of mawkishness. The famous Sicilienne was also sensitively played, despite some slight problems with instrumental balances.
Jordan's interpretations of Schumann left more room for second guessing. His performance of the Manfred Overture, which opened the concert, had the most conspicuous balance problems of the evening. Jordan's version of the "Spring" Symphony was more satisfying: brisk and energetic, but occasionally a little too hasty for its own good. While Jordan's expeditiousness lent shape to Schumann's Larghetto, it diminished the vigor of the third-movement Scherzo. And I'd have preferred a more meticulous management of tempo in the first movement—especially at the beginning of the coda.
Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt joined Jordan for Ravel's G-major Piano Concerto. The performance's outer movements didn't quite match the standards of crispness and sparkle set by Krystian Zimerman and Pierre Boulez in their 1994 Cleveland Orchestra recording of the work. Jordan tended, in particular, to overplay the novelty elements of the concluding Presto.
But Hewitt's superb rendition of the Adagio assai was something altogether different. It's a construction that demands that the performer step aside, keeping himself or herself well out of the music's way. Again, one thinks of Maeterlinck, who, fearing that an actor's personality invariably limited the audience's perception of literary character, dared to imagine a theater performed by wax figures. It was in a similar spirit that Hewitt played Ravel's slow movement: with an economy of inflection and blankness of affect—an inertness that, paradoxically, brought this music to life.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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