CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 12 MARCH 2009
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat major ("La Reine"). Johannes Brahms: Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54. Julian Anderson: Eden. Zoltán Kodály: Psalmus hungaricus, Op. 13. (Stuart Skelton, ten.; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
It is said that one day, long after the Biblical Fall, Adam was walking with his sons Cain and Abel after a day spent tilling the dry, dusty ground. They chanced to pass the Garden of Eden, and Adam let forth a tremendous sigh. "What's wrong, father?" asked his sons. Adam pointed toward the lush, verdant land that was forever off-limits to them. "We used to live there," he explained. "That," he added grumpily, "was until your mother ate us out of house and home."
Yes, to be fair, Adam took his bite of the apple too. But whatever the sexual politics of the book of Genesis, it seems that people have been searching for the Garden of Eden since at least 950 B.C.E., when the writer now known as J set down the story of Adam and Eve. For composer Julian Anderson, the Garden of Eden is not so much a place as a state of "simplicity and balance," as he once described it—a frame of mind embodied, for him, in Constantin Brâncusi's "The Kiss."
Anderson's attempt to evoke a similar state—an orchestral piece titled Eden—substitutes on this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts for what was supposed to be a world premiere from the composer. Franz Welser-Möst's version of Eden seemed a deliberately rough-hewn affair. In the passages of Eden that call to mind Hungarian folk music, violist Robert Vernon and cellist Desmond Hoebig pushed the timbres of their instruments much further past conventional orchestral bounds than the principals on the fairly recent recording by Martyn Brabbins and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. And the sections which, in the CBSO version, appear close relations of Benjamin Britten's "Sunday Morning" sounded spikier and more adventurous. For those unfamiliar with Eden, Welser-Möst offered some lucid introductory remarks. I hope they'll be repeated at Saturday evening's concert.
Apart from Welser-Möst's robust and reasonably poised version of Haydn's "La Reine" Symphony, the remainder of Thursday's concert consisted of a pair of works guaranteed to thrill fans of religious choral music: Brahms' Schicksalslied and Kodály's Psalmus hungaricus. After what was, from my seat, an overly quiet entrance in the Schicksalslied, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus quickly found its footing. This fine ensemble generated some memorably rich textures: in the unaccompanied "Blicken in ewiger Klarheit" bars of the Brahms, for example, and the closing bars of the Kodály. And their fortissimo in the penultimate stanza of the Psalmus was absolutely thrilling.
Tenor Stuart Skelton was a more distinctive vocalist as King David in the Kodály than he was in last month's Glagolitic Mass. Skelton's David is forceful and stern, but his anger seems held in check, even when he's wishing "bitter death" on a betrayer. For me, this somewhat restrained approach works—though there may be some who think that Kodály's Psalmus, coming directly after Anderson's Eden, should be the perfect opportunity to raise a little Cain.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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