In the 1970s, the Minnesota Orchestra featured "rug concerts," where carpet-covered platforms were placed over the seats and audiences could listen to the music relaxing on the floor. I remember lying on my back, eyes closed, a pillow under my head, being transported to the idyllic nature setting that Beethoven immortalized in his Symphony No. 6 in F, "Pastoral."
I had the same experience with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on Friday morning at the Ordway. Winter gloom gave way to sunny summer in the symphony's glorious opening. In the extended first movement, conductor Joana Carneiro led a reading of exuberance and inexhaustible inventiveness.
Then the performance went off track. After a lugubrious second movement, slow tempos turning Beethoven's babbling brook into a bog, she did capture the gaiety of village merriment in the third. But the thunderstorm in the fourth was of decidedly low voltage. Her reading of the finale was deeply felt, but missed a degree of ecstasy.
Carneiro was more successful with Paul Dresher's "Cornucopia," an SPCO commission that premiered in 1990. It is good to have it back in the repertoire.
Dresher was living among the redwoods in Northern California while composing the piece. Besides its nod to general abundance, the title refers to chanterelle mushrooms (nicknamed "Horn of Plenty"), which were plentiful at the time.
While not explicitly programmatic, it has a strong emotional arc. Beginning with a series of austere dissonances, Dresher adds layers of sound until the music bubbles and swirls. Periods of staccato strings in Minimalist repetition are followed by lush melodies celebrating bounty. Carneiro's gentle hand molded the complex counterpoint into an emotionally satisfying whole.
Haydn's Cello Concerto in C was lost for over 200 years. The manuscript was not rediscovered until 1961 in the Czech National Library in Prague. Though a relatively youthful work, dating from the early days of his service to Prince Esterhazy, it is well worth hearing.
Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott played with great virtuosity. He seemed to play in a meditative state, delivering an ardent and passionate reading. If only he played with a warmer, more resonant sound. Carneiro captured the refined elegance of the work as well as Haydn's buoyant spirit.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.