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Cleveland's Ninth

After a glittering Season Opening concert last month, the National Symphony Orchestra opens its regular season tonight, with a concert combining the world premiere of Jefferson Friedman's Sacred Heart: Explosion with Beethoven's ninth symphony (Michael Lodico will review). On one hand, the program will ensure a full house (indeed, the two evening performances sold out some time ago), but on the other, who would want to have his work compared to Beethoven's ninth? A very good interview by Stephen Brookes in Sunday's Post introduces us to Friedman and his piece, based on a crazy painting by Henry Darger.

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Beethoven, Symphony No. 9, M. Brueggergosman, K. O'Connor, F. Lopardo, R. Pape, Cleveland Orchestra, F. Welser-Möst
(October 2, 2007)
For the Beethoven, Leonard Slatkin will conduct Norman Scribner's Choral Arts Society of Washington, with solo contributions from soprano Measha Brueggergosman, mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, tenor Richard Croft, and bass Morris Robinson. A new release from the Cleveland Orchestra, brought back to recording by its relatively new conductor Franz Welser-Möst, offers a glimpse of what to expect from Measha Brueggergosman when she sings with the NSO. As noted in her recording of Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, this is a voice of thick strokes and generous vibrato. The soprano of the quartet needs power to soar over the mass of chorus and orchestra, but then you have that moment where her high B has to melt and sigh ("wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt"), and there are just too many rough edges on joy's gentle wing.

Of the solo quartet, only René Pape (so that's what German should sound like sung) would be considered for my dream team. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, a singer I have admired before, is generally lost in the wash. This is a live recording, made in Severance Hall this past January, not without flaws and unlikely to replace anyone's favorite Beethoven 9. The sound seems close to the orchestra and chorus, emphasizing incongruencies in tuning (chirping woodwinds occasionally pop out of the texture in odd ways) and attack ("auf diesem Bund-t-t"), while the soloists sound a little distant. The orchestra seems to disappear completely at one point in the finale (measures 64 and 65 of the Allegro assai section): yes, the texture is reduced to horns and violas at that point, but where did they go?

The National Symphony Orchestra will present this concert on Thursday (October 4, 7 pm), Friday (October 5, 1:30 pm), and Saturday (October 6, 8 pm). The Cleveland Symphony Orchestra will visit the Kennedy Center Concert Hall later in the month, thanks to WPAS (October 15, 8 pm). Their program includes symphonies by Mozart (no. 28, C major, K. 200) and Tchaikovsky (no. 6, B minor, Pathétique), as well as Guide to Strange Places by John Adams.


jfl said...

Excellent liner notes on this thing, though, no? It's like a throw-back to the golden age of LPs and CDs. Well... at least it compares nicely to more recent issues by the major labels.

Charles T. Downey said...

Because F. W.-M. wrote an essay in the booklet? When he writes things like "D minor stand for death, B-flat major for faith and hope, and D major for human victory and jubilation" or "the interval of the perfect fourth, which through the ages had been symbolic of Christ," I search around for explanatory footnotes. There are none, of course.

This essay notwithstanding, F. W.-M. is an intelligent conductor (the troubles he has had so far mystify me), and I like what I have heard so far in general. This ninth just does not do it for me.

jfl said...

Hello: he's a (the) conductor, he can make stuff up, if he wants to. He's not a musty meticulous musicologist. :-)

F-flat minor is for existential ambiguity. There, I said it.

Charles T. Downey said...

Hmm, existential ambiguity ... maybe you mean E minor... Or not. :-)

jfl said...

Precisely... I'm not sure.