Friday, November 6, 2009
Still Tasty After All These Years
Still Tasty After All These Years
By Tom Wachunas
The Canton Symphony Orchestra, Cable Recital Hall, Canton, Ohio, USA, 29.10.2009, (TW)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 17 in G Major, K. 129 (1772); Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525 (1787); Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364 (320d) (1779)
In the second of its Casual Concert Series for the 2009-10 season, The Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) presented an all-Mozart evening. The program was comprised of three selections that provided a thoroughly edifying cross-section of the composer’s astounding gifts for melody, elegant structure, and emotional depth.
This CSO series is less formal than the Masterworks series for full orchestra at Umstattd Hall. The smaller Cable Recital Hall stage is better suited to chamber-style concerts, allowing for conductor and/or performers to engage the audience more intimately. The orchestra for this concert consisted of 17 instruments, though still in keeping with how the pieces on the program were originally scored.
Matthew Brown, the CSO Assistant Conductor, introduced the proceedings by calling the evening “the story of two crescendos.” He explained that the first work on the program –Symphony No. 17- incorporated Mozart’s earliest use of the Mannheim Crescendo, named for the court orchestra in Mannheim, Germany, that had become famous for its virtuosity and the innovative changes it pioneered in 18th century orchestral techniques and compositional styles. Mozart was moved by the orchestra’s mastery of diminuendo (a slow softening of volume) balanced with crescendo (gradual increasing of volume). He would further perfect this development in other works, particularly in his Sinfonia Concertante, which closed the evening here.
Also worth noting is Brown’s humorous acknowledgement that the order of the program was something of a break from the traditional practice of saving symphonies for the climax of the evening. As it turned out, though, the programming on this occasion served the notion of crescendo very well indeed. Call it a gourmet meal (this was, after all, Mozart) with courses served out of “normal” sequence.
In this context Symphony No. 17 was an appetizer, albeit a delectable one. From the light-hearted, unified dance rhythms of the Allegro and the simple magic of the Andante, through the jig-like processional melodies of the finale, the orchestra performed with crisp, infectious joie d’vivre. That same spirit was magnified in the orchestra’s effervescent performance of the iconic Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. I often wonder what Mozart would think of how his string serenade – originally written as background music, really – has fared in modern times. It has become ubiquitous in its incarnations, including sappy muzak versions piped into elevators and shopping malls. Common as chocolate, perhaps, but truly fine chocolate at that. Surely, as this orchestra so deftly reminded me, the work is a deliriously sweet, even addictive confection. Dessert had been served.
And so it was time for the entrée. For sheer melodic depth and lyrical warmth, Sinfonia Concertante is certainly among Mozart’s most compelling string concertos. Here the orchestra’s sound took on a distinctly more muscular sonority. This was apropos to the music’s aural essence, built upon the throatier tonal qualities of the solo viola and its soaring duets with solo violin. The guest soloists were violist Jonathan Kim and violinist Emily Cornelius. Both were nothing short of brilliant. Together they delivered the soul of this work with astonishing grace and virtuosity, and the orchestra rose to the task with equal panache. Particularly memorable was the doleful and heartrending Andante movement. The soloists were fully immersed- like a single instrument- in the music’s pathos, with the violin’s fiery outbursts perfectly met by the viola’s darker pleadings. Then, in a dramatic change to a mood closer in character to the sumptuous opening Allegro, the music shifted back into high spirits with the ebullient Presto movement. As if in a frantic game of leap- frog, violin and viola engaged in a technically thrilling, seductive series of call-and-response passages for the electrifying finale.
In the end, the audience responded with the same unfettered adulation they might accord master chefs who had just served up an unforgettable feast. Bon apetit.