CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 22 MARCH 2007
Igor Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Basset Clarinet and Orchestra, K. 622; Antonín Dvorák: Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60. (Franklin Cohen, cl.; Alan Gilbert, cond.)
The religious movie poses a unique challenge for its producers. Make a mistake casting an ordinary film—John Wayne as Genghis Khan in the movie The Conqueror, for example—and you'll likely receive bad reviews. Make a similar mistake in a religious movie and you might arouse genuine ire. One can only be thankful that Wayne's appearance as a centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told was a short one. So it's not surprising that eyebrows raised when Linda Darnell—then growing sultrier by the day—was cast as none other than the Virgin Mary in Henry King's 1943 The Song of Bernadette. In the end, she appeared uncredited and obscured by bright light. Perhaps that was a good decision. A year after Bernadette, Darnell, in her starring role in Summer Storm, was being touted as "the most beautiful woman God ever forgot to put a soul into."
Nor was the development of Bernadette's soundtrack altogether straightforward. Igor Stravinsky drafted music to accompany the Virgin Mary's appearance, but in the end it was Alfred Newman's score that got the nod. And that, too, might have been for the best. Stravinsky's music evolved into the Andante of his Symphony in Three Movements, performed at this weekend's Severance Hall concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra and guest conductor Alan Gilbert.
Gilbert's conducting is not notable for rhythmic acuity. Thursday evening's version of Stravinsky's symphony had none of the ferocity of the very best performances. And elsewhere in the program, Gilbert had difficulty maintaining tension over long time scales, as in the last two movements of the program-closing Dvorák Symphony No. 6. Gilbert led the Dvorák Scherzo, in particular, with altogether too great a sense of decorum. There was little hint of the lively Czech folk music that inspired Dvorák's writing.
What Gilbert does have is an excellent ear for orchestral sound. His performance of that Stravinsky middle movement was less conventionally "pretty" than one often hears. Instead, the writing sounded unusually tough and sinewy. The glitter of the harp attracted less attention than other, coarser instrumental strands. The approach added something to one's sense of the work's unity. This version of the Andante sounded nicely at home between the work's gritty outer movements.
Gilbert also elicited playing of admirable clarity in the accompaniment to the central work on Thursday's program: the Mozart Concerto for Basset Clarinet and Orchestra. Yes, again there was a degree of rhythmic disjointedness. At times during the first movement, conductor, orchestra, and soloist Franklin Cohen seemed out of sync with one another. But Cohen's playing was impressively sensitive—not especially spontaneous, but poised, understated, eloquent.
No, this performance didn't have the individuality or the showiness you might expect in a concerto. But sometimes, whether you're playing Mozart or you're committing a religious apparition to celluloid, blurring a star performer's personality might be your best strategy.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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