CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 2 FEBRUARY 2006
Hector Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture. Ernest Chausson: Poème de l'amour et de la mer, Op. 19. Felix Mandelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream—Overture and Incidental Music, Op. 21 and 61. (Felicity Lott, sop.; Della Jones, m-s.; Oberlin College Choir; Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus; Cleveland State University Chorale; Marc Minkowski, cond.)
The 29th of September, 1662, should have been a banner day for Samuel Pepys, then just shy of his thirtieth birthday and a recent appointee to the English Privy Council's Committee for Tangier. He had, some time previous, vowed to abstain from wine and plays until Michaelmas. Now that feast-day had arrived, and Pepys was eager to enjoy a well deserved trip to the King's Theatre, near Lincoln's Inn Fields in London. Alas, the production proved, so he recorded in his famous diary, "the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life." So it was that Pepys resolved never again to see A Midsummer Night's Dream.
His was, to be sure, a minority opinion. Shakespeare's fantasy of fairies and lovers and "hard-handed" would-be thespians rarely fails to charm—even, as in its appearance on this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts, at one remove. It is Mendelssohn's complete incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream that figures in conductor Marc Minkowski's debut program. But Shakespeare's original is there as well, in remarkably adept readings of the relevant dramatic fragments by soprano Felicity Lott and mezzo-soprano Della Jones. Those who know only Mendelssohn's much-loved music—who haven't heard, say, the similarly presented Claudio Abbado recording featuring Kenneth Branagh—will be amazed by how much the score gains in context. Other concertgoers will revel in the enchanting singing of women from the Oberlin College Choir, Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus, and Cleveland State University Chorale. Still others will be surprised by Felicity Lott's comic talent. Her turn as the bellows-mender Francis Flute performing in the so-called "tedious brief scene of young Pyramus / And his love Thisby" was rollicking good fun. The crowds making their way to the parking lot after Thursday's performance were, with ample justification, among the happiest I've seen leaving Severance this season.
Lott visited the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum in her eloquent version of Chausson's Poème de l'amour et de la mer. Her clean, economical singing turned out to be a splendid foil for Chausson's plush setting of Maurice Bouchor's tumid verse. If Lott tended on the whole toward elegant understatement, the result was all the more affecting when, at times, she permitted herself moments of less constrained emotion. Marc Minkowski provided able support, coaxing an impressively earthy and forbidding sound from the low strings between the second and third segments of the Poème's final section, "La mort de l'amour."
Minkowski's reading of the concert opener—the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture—featured bracingly loud percussion and, like his Mendelssohn, surprising but refreshing tempos. With Minkowski as master of ceremonies, Severance Hall might be the right place to look this weekend for what Duke Theseus commands at the conclusion of A Midsummer Night's Dream: "nightly revels and new jollity."
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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