CONSIDERED OPINIONS with JEROME CROSSLEY
Mr. Crossley has gone on sabbatical and will not be reviewing the
last three concerts of The Cleveland Orchestra's 2009-2010 season.
Considered Opinions is WCLV's program that reviews performances by Cleveland-area music ensembles. Commentator Jerome Crossley offers an informed and witty perspective on performances by groups that include the Cleveland Orchestra.
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CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 15 APRIL 2010
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Suite from Dardanus. Jan Katitel Jirí Neruda: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major. George Frideric Handel: Water Music. (Michael Sachs, tpt.; Bernard Labadie, cond.)
Public relations sometimes presented a challenge for Britain's King George I. More than a few people were unhappy about having a German-born king who, word had it, could barely speak the English language and who would really rather be back in Hannover. One day, it's said, a mob of disgruntled Londoners stopped the carriage of George's mistress, Melusine von der Schulenberg. Melusine, herself less than expert in English, tried to calm the people by telling them that George had come to Britain for their own good. Instead she declared, "We have come for your own goods." "Yes," came a voice from the crowd, "and for all our chattels too!"
The story might well be apocryphal. But George had what we'd now call an image problem. And the desire to make himself more visible to his English subjects is said to be one reason he undertook a grand trip up the River Thames in 1717. The soundtrack for that trip—played by an orchestra of some 50 musicians with a moving barge for a stage—was Handel's now-famous Water Music.
The Water Music is heard at Severance Hall this weekend courtesy of guest conductor Bernard Labadie, the founder and music director of Quebec City's Les Violons du Roy. Labadie's established quite a reputation for drawing early music from modern orchestras, and Thursday's Cleveland Orchestra concert confirmed that the reputation is well-earned.
There's nothing eccentric about Labadie's approach to the Water Music, but last night's performance was far from routine. Labadie performs this extremely familiar music with a freshness that might well energize even the most jaded concertgoers. He conducts vigorously, but with an acute sense of proportion. Even when he's shaping the music quite assertively, nothing sounds contrived or forced. The sheer joy of Thursday's performance reduced scattered instances of imprecision and apparent fatigue to near-insignificance. One's ear was drawn instead to such details as the alert interaction between orchestral musicians in the Overture to the F-major Suite.
The orchestra's own Michael Sachs brought a similar degree of liveliness to the evening's centerpiece: the work that's become generally known as Neruda's Trumpet Concerto, though it was originally written for hunting horn. Sachs' first-movement cadenza had a nice sense of spontaneity, and his account of the Largo was artfully shaped and songful.
A set of orchestral excerpts from Rameau's opera Dardanus rounded out Thursday's program. Again, Labadie conducted skillfully, offering pungent accounts of the Tambourins and eliciting rich, eerie colors from the orchestra in the "Entry of the Dreams." The Dardanus suite and Handel's Water Music also made a nice set of aquatic-themed bookends for the program: Dardanus opens on the Greek island of Cythera and features a battle with a sea monster on the coast of Turkey. And whether sailing the musical Mediterranean or navigating the tuneful Thames, you'll not go wrong with Labadie at the helm.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.