The Cleveland Orchestra’s Ode to Joy and Other Dances
After patiently waiting for an audience member to silence his/her phone, Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero gave the downbeat to a performance full of color and dance. The Cleveland Orchestra, being the extremely fine-tuned instrument which it is, responded gracefully and lavishly to the Maestro’s controlled but immensely exciting and sometimes dance-like conducting throughout the evening. The first work of the program, Neruda Songs for Mezzo-soprano and Orchestra by Peter Lieberson, was a sensuous treat. Lieberson selected these five sonnets out of the Cien Sonetos de Amor (One Hundred Love Sonnets) by beloved Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, and set them to music specifically for his wife, the great late Mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. In the composer’s own words, “each of the five poems that I set to music seemed to me to reflect a different face in love’s mirror.” Anyone familiar with Hunt Lieberson’s incomparable artistry, with her natural gift for phrasing melodic lines and dynamic shaping, would understand the enormity of the shoes Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong had to fill for this performance. With a deep but tender, powerful but soothing voice, and a vast palette of musical colors, DeShong more than did both Mr. and Mrs. Lieberson justice. It was an intimate rendition, becoming apparent that Ms. DeShong understands that Neruda Songs are filled with a sort of delicate passion and peace made with the loss of a loved one. Maestro Guerrero accompanied Ms. DeShong very sensitively, also bringing out of the orchestra the vast array of sound colors in Mr. Lieberson’s score, especially pleasingly in Amor, amor, las nubes a la torre del cielo (Love, love, the clouds went up to tower of the sky) with the winds ascending to a climactic chord, and in Ya eres mía. Reposa con tu sueño en mi sueño (And now you’re mine. Rest with your dream in my dream), with its repeating sensual bossa-nova rhythm. In the last song, Amor mío, si muero y tú no mueres (My love, if I die and you don’t), DeShong’s diminuendo on her final Amor made me believe that peace is in fact attainable. Expecting to be bombarded by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the main course on the evenings menu, I was very pleasantly surprised by Maestro Guerrero’s relaxed but nevertheless intense interpretation. Despite the endless debate over Beethoven’s tempo and metronome markings, Maestro Guerrero chose to obey the Master’s wishes and for the first time in my life was able to hear the written articulation in the second violins and cellos in the opening of the first movement. I was also able to hear the different instrument sections’ interaction and famous Beethoven crescendi boil to a simmer, making me break a sweat. The second movement made Maestro Guerrero dance on the podium. His precise and subtle conducting filled the movement with an elegant drama, as opposed to a nervous one. The third movement made ME dance. At a slightly slower tempo than that in Beethoven’s marking, the enhanced heartbeat-like pizzicati in the double basses and cellos created a great groove which made the graceful melodic line dance. The Finale, that symphony within a symphony, shined with the presence of roughly 200 members of the combined forces of the Master Chorale of South Florida, Alec Schumacker, director, and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, James K. Bass, director. After the series of beautifully shaped recitatives in the cellos and double basses, and the exposition of the “Ode to Joy” theme, came the commanding presence and voice of bass Raymond Aceto, triumphant and virtuosically stating his own recitative. While the balance between orchestra and chorus was perfect throughout the movement, the same thing cannot be said about the four soloists as they sang together. Ms. DeShong, after having thrilled us earlier in the evening, disappeared into oblivion, making it seem as if she did not know her part well and was afraid of being found out. Soprano Nicole Cabell had some intonation issues, but displayed great command of her part, a very difficult one. Tenor Garrett Sorenson, with a lovely lyric voice, sang his solo majestically, and was in perfect balance with Mr. Aceto at all times. The massive choir maintained a well-shaped sound throughout, and got the most bravo shouts in the four curtain calls at the end. Maestro Guerrero looked exhausted but blissful, and I’m sure he had a tremendous night sleep after such a fabulous performance, probably ecstatic at the thought of doing it all over again the next evening, AND the next.