Conductors generally like applause, and some are good at milking it. But on Friday evening at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the French-Canadian Bernard Labadie did the opposite: He asked the audience to refrain from clapping.
Why? In a short address before the Minnesota Orchestra's performance of Fauré's Requiem, Labadie explained that the work had special significance for him, and he wanted a period of silence and contemplation at the conclusion to allow its message of peace and spirituality "to speak for itself."
That might have worked, but Labadie hadn't reckoned on his audience's Pavlovian, habitual scuttle toward the parking ramps as soon as the final note has sounded.
Absent applause, the dash-to-exit happened sooner than ever on Friday, and the spell of Fauré's beatific In Paradisum was quickly broken.
A pity, because Labadie's performance of the Requiem was exceptionally successful. Perched upon a double riser on a piano stool, he paced the music beautifully, distilling a soothing atmosphere of elegance and quiet intensity from the performers.
The Minnesota Chorale, fastidiously prepared by artistic director Kathy Saltzman Romey, responded with style and sophistication to Labadie's direction.
The singers caught particularly effectively the sense of vocal levitation Fauré conjures in the exquisite Sanctus, and kept their tuning sweet in the a cappella and lightly accompanied moments.
Vibrato was rightly kept to a minimum, lending an extra sense of lightness and ethereality to both the tenor opening of the Agnus Dei, and the otherworldly soprano line of In Paradisum.
Bass-baritone Philippe Sly brought a firm authority to his solos, avoiding operatic bluster. Soprano Hélène Guilmette, by contrast, was a puzzling choice in the context of Labadie's generally chaste, refined interpretation — her tremulous delivery of the famous Pie Jesu made for slightly enervating listening.
A silent exit after the Requiem wasn't the only surprise Labadie sprang on Friday evening's audience. The opening symphony, by the virtually unheard-of Henri-Joseph Rigel, was another.
Rigel's Symphony No. 4 in C minor (he wrote 20 in total) could easily have been mistaken for mid-period "storm-and-stress" Haydn, with a sprinkling of Mozartian rococo on top. (Rigel was a contemporary of both composers.)
It made a more-than-passing impression in the hands of Labadie and a stripped-down Minnesota Orchestra team of approximately 30 players.
Crisp, driving rhythms in the outer movements and a slow movement whose easy-flowing lyricism anticipated Schubert both lodged firmly in the memory.
A forgotten masterpiece, perhaps? Not quite. But on the evidence of Labadie's bracing performance, Rigel was comfortably above average as a symphonist. We should hear more of him.
Mozart's "Paris" Symphony received a comparably lively, bristling interpretation. And then, one final Labadie surprise — the choral version of Fauré's beloved "Pavane," normally an orchestral piece. The words were fairly silly, but it was good to get an opportunity to hear them.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.