Classical music / Cleveland Orchestra / Dohnnyi (RFH, London). Nice programming, shame about the jet-lag.

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The Independent Culture
It was Atmospheres that introduced many in this country to a newly beguiling and utterly original voice during the early 1960s. Some felt that what Ligeti had given us in his densely timbral work was a little too easily achieved and one-dimensional. What had happened to rhythm, thematic line and functional harmony? At first the baby appeared to have been thrown out with the bathwater, but closer acquaintance revealed a teeming activity within the slowly shifting sound-masses - a so-called micropolyphony - and the composer's timbral developments seemed a fascinating substitute for earlier structural methods.

Ligeti has come far since those days, exploring much more hard-edged material of late, but Atmospheres, which opened the Cleveland Orchestra's concert on Thursday, can still fascinate the ear and engage the musical mind. If the progress from one conglomeration of sound-events to another seems at first casually improvisatory, the cogency and exactness of Ligeti's aural imagination soon begin to make their compelling points. Certainly the orchestra secured our rapt attention with its fastidious and concentrated delivery of the work's vastly quiet processes under Christoph von Dohnnyi.

At first sight, it looked odd to follow Atmospheres with Wagner's Lohengrin prelude, but it proved a thought-provoking juxtaposition. Dohnnyi moved without a break from the ghostly final sonorities and three bars of silence that comprise Ligeti's cadence into the ethereal textures of Wagner's mystic poem, making an extraordinary link across the years.

The glowing progress of the prelude from radiant heights to richly sonorous middle-ground was firmly caught by Dohnnyi and his orchestra, but the playing in this surprising opening linkage was not to be equalled later. Perhaps jet-lag had taken its toll but, for whatever reason, energies and involvement seemed to flag as the concert progressed.

In Schumann's Spring Symphony there was little of the eagerness and buoyancy which this inspirational music has it in its power to generate. Rhythms plodded and the glorious lyric spans remained obstinately earthbound. Whatever unthinking commentators have said in the past about Schumann's treatment of the orchestra, the sound of this music can glow and sparkle, but conductor and orchestra here failed to rise to its challenge.

Nor was Stravinsky's The Firebird, played complete, much more enlivening. Too many orchestral details were fluffed or blurred, and the impetuosity of the young composer's imagination was rarely given its due.

This was simply a great orchestra a little out of sorts with itself, and only in a touchingly performed encore from Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust did we hear a little more engagement and textural address.

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