CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 5 JANUARY 2006
Marc-André Dalbavie: Piano Concerto. Claude Debussy: Printemps. Ludwig can Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. (Leif Ove Andsnes, p.; James Gaffigan, cond.)
Artistic invention can stretch the limits, not only of technology, but of economics as well. William Faulkner dreamed of having The Sound and the Fury printed in multiple colors, the better to sort out the opening chapter's complex web of timelines. But color printing was expensive, and Faulkner had to settle for simply using italics. Much of the music of Marc-André Dalbavie, too, seems to call out for the latest in distribution technology. Surround sound might go some way toward reproducing the effect of his Concertate il suono, which scattered groups of musicians around the interior of Severance Hall. But no, the one major Dalbavie CD of which I'm aware—a Naïve Records release titled Color—is in just plain stereo.
The musicians of Dalbavie's Piano Concerto—part of a "piano cycle" inspired by The Sound and the Fury—stay firmly on the stage, but the music is no less striking as a result. Thursday evening's Cleveland Orchestra concert featured the American premiere of the work, with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing the solo part. In this work, as in Dalbavie's Violin Concerto, the presence of a soloist seems to broaden the composer's sound: to give it a somehow—dare one say it?—popular flavor. The Violin Concerto's approachability is enhanced by some energetic fiddling that almost sounds like bluegrass. In the outer movements of the Piano Concerto, a similar effect is produced by big flashy solo passages that seem borrowed from Rachmaninoff. And Andsnes, who played the Rachmaninoff First Concerto here in May, has more than enough technique for the job. The work's central movement, by contrast, is a creation of eerily motionless beauty. This is a major work by a composer of prodigious talent.
The rest of Thursday's concert—Debussy's Printemps and the Beethoven Fifth Symphony—was far less satisfying. Franz Welser-Möst's illness-related absence this weekend must rank as one of the season's bigger disappointments. The short notice on which Assistant Conductor James Gaffigan took over this series of concerts may have accounted for some of last evening's raggedness—particularly in the earlier parts of the two movements of Printemps and the final movement of the Beethoven.
And yet something deeper was wrong here. Gaffigan conducted the Beethoven Fifth almost as if he was embarrassed that music has a pulse—as if the need to get from bar to bar in a timely fashion was an imposition. One has the feeling that, if Gaffigan designed cars, his vehicles would lack engines: they'd simply roll from place to place at whatever speed the terrain deigned to take them.
The miasma of rhythmic sloppiness nearly smothered poor Beethoven. And that's a shame. The Fifth is, after all, a creation of rhythm, seeming to spring magically from the simplest of metrical seeds, even as The Sound and the Fury evolved—so said its author—from a single, haunting image: the muddy drawers of a little girl in a tree who peers through a window at her grandmother's funeral.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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