The other day I agreed with David Salvage that the Cleveland Orchestra's playing at Carnegie, however mind-blowingly perfect, wasn't supplying "chills" — a sense of something urgent unfolding. The chills arrived in the second half of Saturday's program, with Schubert's Unfinished and Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra. I finally felt a current of emotion underneath the shining surface. Still, I couldn't quite put my finger on what Franz Welser-Möst was up to interpretively. I had the same quizzical reaction in 2003. He's a brilliant technician, and his programming is livelier than the norm. As a commenter at NewMusicBox observed, W-M violated an unwritten rule by putting two living composers — Birtwistle and Dutilleux — on the same concert. Horrors! I also like his nonconformist habit of playing works without a break: this time Schubert and Berg, last time Death and Transfiguration and the Four Last Songs. I'll save commentary on Radu Lupu's Beethoven concertos for a coming New Yorker column, also to include the mesmerizing recital that Piotr Anderszewski gave in Zankel last night.
Last Saturday I also saw Pelléas et Mélisande at the Met. Ah, Pelléas, penumbral, lambent, etc. etc. Since Jonathan Miller has recently been slammed here and there in the blõg¥sphêre, I think it's worth pointing out that this revival is a far cry from what Miller put on stage in 1995. I interviewed the director at the time, and he emphasized how important the servants were to his vision of the opera: hovering, gossiping, watching, and waiting, they should suggest the real world that these weary aesthetes have foresworn. (Villiers de l'Isle-Adam: "As for living, let our servants do that for us.") Now the servants are barely there. Mostly gone, too, are the Atget photographs that Miller wanted to have projected on the sets. It's become a static, vacant, monotonous production, and the singers have a hard time putting any life into it. Only in the final scene did the reigning stupor give way to something more human and involving. Mélisande's death was truly felt, largely thanks to the hugely idiomatic singing and acting of José van Dam (who gives NYC recitals on Sunday and Wednesday) and beautiful tremors in the Met orchestra (once more in perfect sync with Levine). When Robert Scandiuzzi's Arkel sang, "You do not understand the soul," van Dam gave a startled little shrug, which said everything. From then to the end, the chills were constant.
If anyone is looking for an introduction to Claude Debussy's great, shadowy world, I suggest this beautiful disc by Claudio Abbado on DG. Then listen again to Sinatra's Only the Lonely.