Minnesota Orchestra review: Songs celebrate love, prepare for separation

11.19.15
Robert Spano
Pioneer Press

Farewell resonated in Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall at Thursday's midday concert. One was from composer Peter Lieberson, who wrote his moving "Neruda Songs" for his wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She premiered these settings of Pablo Neruda poetry a year before her death, the composer following her to the grave five years later. Also saying goodbye was Peter Tchaikovsky, as his Sixth Symphony (the "Pathetique") debuted 10 days before his death. 

Each work overflowed with urgency as performed by guest conductor Robert Spano and the Minnesota Orchestra, the importance of these final declarations coming through clearly in interpretations of gentleness (the Lieberson), explosiveness (the Tchaikovsky) and palpable yearning (both). 

Although the Tchaikovsky symphony unleashed the orchestra's full fury, I was most impressed when it favored whispers over shouts, as on the sweet lullaby of an opening Adagio, Gregory Williams' clarinet both melancholy and comforting. Or the grief-filled finale, pauses extended as if the composer were carefully choosing his last phrases, settling upon something funereal and bowed by the weight of sadness. Spano and the orchestra brought out all of its desperate darkness with an admirable absence of melodrama. 

The SPCO performance emphasized intimacy while the Minnesota Orchestra gave the work a full-voiced lushness that underlined its words of trying to express a love beyond words or music. O'Connor proved an ideal interpreter, fully inhabiting the music with her smooth, subtle, substantial voice and warm presence.
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