The two movements of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony (No.8 in B-minor, D759) juxtaposed with the three movements of Berg’s Lyric Suite (string quartet) that the composer arranged for string orchestra: Andante amoroso; Allegro misterioso-Trio estatico; Adagio appassionato
Mass No.6 in E-flat, D950
Joélle Harvey (soprano); Daryl Freedman (mezzo-soprano); Julian Prégardien & Martin Mitterrutzner (tenors) & Dashon Burton (bass-baritone)
Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
The Cleveland Orchestra
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 18 January, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Franz Welser-Möst conducted the two movements of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony in seamless alternation with three from Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite, an attempt to show how the older Viennese master’s work finds resonance in the piece written a century later. Hearing them performed back-to-back proved a valuable aural exercise; one couldn’t help but listen more actively and note how they are related. Both works are highly refined and share an emphasis on intense emotional expression tinged by melancholy. Heard alongside the Berg, Schubert came off as the more original, while the younger composer’s work sounded more rhapsodic. Throughout the five movements the playing was vibrant and exquisitely virtuosic. The finely balanced Andante amoroso transitioned smoothly, after a moment of silence, into the haunting first bars of the Schubert’s first movement, and other shifts were similarly successful.
Schubert’s chorus-dominant E-flat Mass provided numerous moments for the magnificent Cleveland Orchestra Chorus to shine. The one hundred-plus-members of the all-volunteer body, superbly prepared by Lisa Wong, sang almost without interruption for the work’s fifty-minute duration, and despite being masked throughout, they achieved surprisingly crisp articulation and precise diction, from the ultra-pianissimo opening Kyrie to the gently lyrical final ‘Dona nobis pacem’.
There were many arresting moments in the vigorous and extensive Gloria. Especially striking were the sharply defined contrasts of loud and soft in the ‘Gratias’ section, the forte trombones at ‘Domine Deus, agnus Dei’, and the marvelous modulations of the chorus in the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’.
Schubert’s scoring for the soloists being somewhat sparing, it was not until the mystical ‘Et incarnatus est’ that the well-matched trio of soprano and the tenors entered. They maintained an optimal balance that allowed each singer’s contribution to shine in a harmonious effort.
Welser-Möst flawlessly handled the huge dynamic swells and startling harmonic shifts of the Sanctus. In the ensuing Benedictus, mezzo-soprano and bass joined Harvey and Prégardien to take the lead. Their modest and more intimate contributions contrasted nicely with the more grandly conceived passages for orchestra and chorus. The final Agnus Dei was anguished and ominous up until the gently lyrical and deeply personal ‘Dona nobis pacem’, an airy pianissimo at first, reached heavenward in the final bars to produce a powerfully expressive appeal.