CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 23 MARCH 2006
Georg Friedrich Haas: Poème. Franz Joseph Haydn: Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E-flat major, Hob. VIIe:1. Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. (Michael Sachs, tpt.; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
There's the illusion of perfect security—gliding along a predetermined path atop steel rails held perfectly parallel by wooden ties. But, like anything on this undependable planet, trains can surprise you. Thus it was that, at the tail end of October 1888, the train carrying Tsar Alexander III derailed while passing through a gorge in southern Russia. The Tsar's saloon car was, so an official statement reported, "badly shattered," but Alexander and his family survived unharmed.
The accident did little to lessen either enthusiasm for the railways or their potential to generate vast sums of money. Indeed, just a couple of weeks later, St. Petersburg would hear the first performance of music made possible by a railroad fortune: Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, composed under the patronage of the widow von Meck. Thursday's Cleveland Orchestra performance of the symphony was a reminder of just how palpably dangerous this music can be.
Franz Welser-Möst's interpretation might not sit well with Tchaikovsky traditionalists. He careens through the first movement's main theme at a velocity that rushes past the usual dramatic wellsprings. He draws his energy instead from violent contrasts and unexpected juxtapositions. Moments of conventional prettiness bring with them a sense of transgression. When you reach the coda of the Andante cantabile, you're reminded of the emotional places the movement has taken you: places you're not sure you should have been permitted to go. This is music balanced on a psychological edge: a Tchaikovsky closer to Mahler than you might have imagined.
It's oddly paired with Haydn's blithesome Trumpet Concerto—though, given the crisp and effervescent solo performance by Orchestra principal Michael Sachs, one hesitates to complain. One word of warning: Severance Hall's tendentious acoustics rendered Sachs' tone exceedingly bright, at least from my seat. Not only did he sound like he was on his own individual stage: it seemed like that stage had been situated, by some sadistic architect, halfway into my left ear canal. This is an invigorating version of this popular concerto, but one which might best be enjoyed from farther back than usual.
The program opener was the world premiere of Poème, by Georg Friedrich Haas. Though the composer's note emphasizes his continuing disinterest in what he calls "'form' in the traditional sense," Poème seems more goal-oriented than the one other work by him that I've heard: a much longer piece titled in vain. But, like in vain, Poème's most obvious activities seem to occur on very long or very short time scales. The result tends to be at once monotonous and mesmerizing. By the end, you might find yourself feeling almost hypnotized, like the women aboard Steve Goodman's "train they call the City of New Orleans." As the song says, "The rhythm of the rails is all they dream."
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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