Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio.com, 7 March 2008
By Elaine Guregian
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde, Cleveland, 6 March 2008
Irritating buzzing impedes orchestra
High notes aside, neither of the pieces on the Cleveland Orchestra's program Thursday night included a thin, piercing tone that invaded the hall like a bionic mosquito and refused to quit. The sound buzzed through Olivier Messiaen's And I Await the Resurrection of the Dead, a piece whose weird stateliness is enough to distract you from any ambient sound.

But by the time the orchestra got through the first movement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), music director Franz Welser-Moest couldn't take it anymore.

The conductor turned toward the audience and politely noted that ''a whistling tone'' had been quite audible and asked for it to be turned off. Apparently no one discovered the source of the sound, which sounded like a hearing aid that needed to be adjusted. Welser-Moest stopped again before the sixth movement of the Mahler to ask again for quiet.

He was polite about it, and it was a reasonable request. The Mahler work is built around Chinese poetry, and it's often scored as delicately as Chinese calligraphy. The orchestra and two vocal soloists had to work extra hard to set the right mood of contemplation for this work about bidding farewell to life.

The English baritone Christopher Maltman made a distinguished Cleveland Orchestra debut in the Mahler. He is an elegant performer who brought the utmost attentiveness to the text. Maltman has sung at venues including the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, and is scheduled to sing at the Salzburg Festival. His fastidiousness and beauty of tone matched him well with Cleveland's musicians.

The German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has sung previously with Cleveland. Thursday night, he had the power to lift over the orchestra's more rip-roaring episodes in the Mahler. He was at his best when the music allowed him to sustain a line and let his voice ring.

Having recently heard Pierre Boulez conduct the orchestra, it is tempting to wonder how he would have handled Messiaen's And I Await the Resurrection of the Dead (Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum), a piece right up his alley.

Messiaen's music never hurries, and this performance captured the deliberate quality of his writing. The blocky writing for reedy winds combined with heavy brass is a startling combination. The players, lined up in straight rows facing the audience, nailed the screechy chords that are stuffed with extra harmonies, like an organ gone crazy. Messiaen's deep Catholic faith didn't stop him from writing music that still sounds wild today.

Even more clarity and more sobriety are the qualities Boulez might have brought to this excellent performance. This is music that doesn't ever try to impress you with its weirdness; it just presents its strangeness as a matter of fact.

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