Minnesota Orchestra presents the impassioned 'Neruda Songs'

11.19.15
Robert Spano
Star Tribune

The “Neruda Songs” by the late Peter Lieberson, which the Minnesota Orchestra is performing this week, have been acclaimed the most important — and arguably the most sensuously beautiful — works for solo voice and orchestra to be composed in this century.

The extra resonance to this was that Hunt Lieberson was battling breast cancer at the time of the premiere, and just a year later the illness took her life at age 52. A line from one of the poems seemed prophetic: “My love, if I die and you don’t, let’s not give grief an even greater field.” Five years later, Lieberson died from complications of lymphoma.

Happily, Spano and O’Connor have been engaged for the concerts at Orchestra Hall. Thursday morning’s performance was one of almost startling illumination and poignancy. O’Connor seemed to have thought through every nuance and shade of meaning in these evocative texts and the settings that Lieberson created for them, and yet the performance sustained a feeling of spontaneity and an intimacy not easily achieved in this hall. (Wisely, translations of the poems appeared as surtitles above the stage as the performance progressed.)

Spano displayed an easy command of the score’s varied and complicated textures — the “sultry” and “languid” qualities the composer asks for — and its subtle rhythms.

The second half was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s familiar Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique.” Spano’s reading was amply emotional without turning sentimental, and he drew a fine performance from the orchestra: a big, growling sound from the trombones and admirable momentum in the third movement.

Read the rest of the review here