Lincoln Center Festival
The Cleveland Orchestra
Music Director and Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Symphony No. 5 in F major
At Avery Fisher Hall
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 16, 2015
Program: O. Messiaen (1908-92):
Hymne (1932, reconstructed 1947)
A. Dvořák (1841-1904): Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76 (1875)
I was thrilled to be introduced to Franz Welser-Möst, the Austrian Conductor and Musical Director of The Cleveland Orchestra. Maestro Welser-Möst has won a Gold Medal and Decoration of Honor from the government of Austria for his musical talents. And, The Cleveland Orchestra has always been one of the finest. I have tickets for the run of this series, presented by Lincoln Center Festival, three nights in a row. On this first night, the program began with Messiaen’s Hymne, which the program notes indicate “opens like a gust of wind…with impassioned melancholy”, as noted by the composer Messiaen, a devout Catholic, called the original, 1932 work Hymne au Saint-Sacrement. In the 1944 liberation of Paris, the score was lost, and, in 1947, Messiaen reconstructed it from memory for a New York concert. I found this piece to have sweeping atmosphere, in the filmatic sense, with defiant, rapid strings. It was evocative of Ravel and Debussy. Often, the eerie strings would pass the theme to the brass, where it would be reconfigured. A profound sense of mystery ensued, wistful and ethereal. The finale had echoing, imploding phrases. I’d love to hear this piece again.
The second Messiaen work in the program was very much less pleasant. The 1959-60, Chronochromie (“Time Color”), was composed, the notes indicate, with vast “mathematical complexity”. The time element is in durations of a whole note and a 32nd note. The color element is in a multitude of “bird songs”, as Messiaen was a serious ornithologist, spending weeks in open fields and in forests, filling “over 200 notebooks with notations of birdsongs” (program notes). I had truly hoped to be serenaded by, perhaps piccolos and flutes, chimes and oboes, but the piece was performed more like an imploding construction site. Its dizzying, endless atonality drove a few to flee to the lobby. Although the program listed seven segments, they ran toward each other like drones. In fact, imagine dozens of drones at various pitches, and you’re on your way to this tonal experience, also evocative of off-key church chimes, breaking glass, a clock factory, intermittent Asian gongs, and dissonant buzzing bees, among other cacophonous irritations. Listening to this was like being trapped in Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.
Maestro Welser-Möst is an efficient conductor, whose baton hits the first beat as he steps on the podium. His baton exudes energy and muscularity in lengthy lifts and swivels. This conductor rarely smiles, during or after the performance, but, after intermission, the Cleveland musicians were warm and ebullient. They absorbed the rapture of the opening “Allegro ma non tanto” movement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 5 in F major. The three following movements were “Andante con moto”, “Scherzo: Allegro scherzando”, and “Finale: Allegro molto”. Ironically, the first Allegro movement evoked bucolic birds in quasi-balletic lyricism. Strings, then oboes (sitting in 1st Tier, one can view instruments with fascination) abounded. The theme turned regal and heraldic, with violins and violas in echoing effervescence. The Andante movement was brooding, with yearning passages followed by majestic intensity. The Scherzo included waltz-like rhythms, even polkas, at times. Then, the Finale was virtuosic, with vibrant momentum and dynamic flourishes.