CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 2 NOVEMBER 2006
Jean Sibelius: Tapiola, Op. 112. Olivier Messiaen: Hymne. Franz Joseph Haydn: Mass No. 14 in B-flat major ("Harmoniemesse"). (Cinzia Forte, sop.; Kate Lindsey, m-s.; Rufus Müller, ten.; Kyle Ketelsen, bass-bar.; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
Vladimir Nabokov had it; so did Duke Ellington and Joachim Raff: synesthesia, that is—the neurological condition in which different senses are yoked together. In the experience of a synesthete, a musical note might have a certain color, or a spoken sound a taste. At its most intense, the syndrome can be challenging to deal with. One famous synesthete, S.V. Shereshevsky, reported being unable to eat and read at the same time. Imagine the flavor of your oatmeal overlapping with your understanding of the morning paper.
The first half of Thursday evening's Cleveland Orchestra concert was composed of two pieces written by synesthetes: Olivier Messiaen's Hymne and Jean Sibelius' Tapiola. Indeed, when Olivier Messiaen was called on to describe Hymne, he did so in a characteristic mélange of color imagery: "...the music combines gold and brown to orange striped with red, the orange and milk white to green and gold." Like much of Messiaen's music, Hymne is rapturous, ecstatic; like much of Sibelius' work, Tapiola is evocative and atmospheric. And, in both pieces, Music Director Franz Welser-Möst minimizes those conspicuous qualities in favor of aspects less apparent.
There was an unusual textural clarity, almost amounting to dryness, in Thursday evening's performances of Hymne and Tapiola. In the former, my ear was repeatedly drawn to marvelously eloquent details of Messiaen's orchestration. In Tapiola, small rhythmic gestures more often caught my attention. And while, in Hymne, Welser-Möst's analytic approach brought Messiaen's euphoric writing a bit closer to earth, making it a shade more intimate, the effect in the Sibelius was to emphasize the composition's enigmatic quality. But here we've ventured far into the region of the subjective; and, in such an unpredictable landscape, your mileage, as they say, may vary.
The second half of Thursday's program was devoted to Haydn's "Harmoniemesse." It's a large-scale setting of the Mass, and its bulk is further emphasized by the impressive size of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and by Franz Welser-Möst's somewhat staid interpretation. Yet Thursday evening's reading, if sober, was never ponderous. The Chorus' fine effort complemented an admirable quartet of vocal soloists—Cinzia Forte, Kate Lindsey, Rufus Müller, and Kyle Ketelsen. Unfortunately, the placement of the soloists, about halfway between the front and back of the Severance Hall stage, tended to diminish their effectiveness. At least from my seat, details of the solo singing were sometimes difficult to distinguish, and bass-baritone Ketelsen occasionally drowned out his colleagues.
Minor complaints, these. On the whole, this is an extremely effective performance. And though Haydn seems slightly out of place on a program with synesthetes Messiaen and Sibelius, your reviewer is tickled pink to recommend this golden opportunity to hear a masterpiece performed only once in a blue moon.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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