Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Resonate in Peace

Resonate in Peace

By Tom Wachunas

Looking over past programs of the Canton Symphony Orchestra 2009-10 season, I’m reminded of how effectively each evening built to a memorable finale. I marveled at the consistency with which audiences were left not just pleased, but more often than not, genuinely electrified, and rightfully so. It’s a bit surprising, then, that the energy of the final concert of the season was notably subdued – funereal, actually - in comparison.

This was definitely not a matter of how the music was performed by the orchestra (which was with all the commanding aural presence that makes it so consistently exciting) as what was performed. In his opening remarks, Maestro Zimmermann opined that the evening’s first selection – Wound Dresser, composed in 1989 by John Adams- was among the greatest works of the 20th century. While such a sweeping observation can surely invoke healthy discussion, suffice it to say the piece is arguably more intriguing for its evocative concept than its memorable musicality.

The work is an elegiac operetta of sorts, scored for orchestra and baritone soloist, and set to the text of the eponymous poem by Walt Whitman. At its heart, the music is a backdrop of hushed chords, like the slow, constant pulsing of ocean swells. Hovering in this quietly haunting aural sea, a solo violin, often in gently piercing high register (and joined later in the work by solo trumpet), punctuates the more anguished moments of the text, emphasizing the blunt details of Whitman’s caring for maimed Civil War soldiers. Baritone David Small, a crisp and splendid operatic presence, sang the text with a deliberate clarity, as if engaged in an urgent conversation, befitting the searing compassion in Whitman’s remembrance of the wounded and dying. Yet the vocal music that Adams composed seems too often disembodied from the orchestral score, creating a tension that is perhaps more cloying than heartrending.

With the somber end of this work still lingering after the intermission, the final selection performed this season - Mozart’s Requiem in D minor- was equally sobering, though certainly richer in its texture and “traditional” emotionality. As Kenneth C. Viant wrote in his program notes, the particulars surrounding Mozart’s final work “are sufficiently bizarre to seem almost improbable and melodramatic…” Its tortured history, and Franz Sussmayr’s less- than- edifying completion of Mozart’s unfinished score notwithstanding, the orchestra performed, as Viant pointed out in his notes, the Requiem edition with orchestration revised by Franz Beyer, published in 1972. It is a version intended to more seriously communicate the “Mozartean spirit.”

As the orchestra successfully offered a stirring and warm reading of that spirit, the featured soloists’ performances were not entirely seamless. The accomplished ensemble consisted of soprano Christine McMasters, mezzo-soprano Kimberly Lauritsen, tenor Drake Dantzler, and bass Nathan Stark. On this occasion, though, their work as a unit seemed at times listless, and McMasters’ somewhat mannered vibrato tended to overpower melody. While this Requiem as a whole certainly doesn’t have the fervent bombast of other works in the genre, it is nonetheless imbued with a distinct dramatic fervor of its own. Thankfully, that drama, whether subtly implied or powerfully declared, was in glorious evidence here, delivered with inspiring finesse by the Canton Symphony Chorus.

It would be unduly harsh to call the entire program a lackluster showing. Still, in the panoramic landscape of the season, this was no celebratory cry of delight at a luminous, epic sunset. Call it an artful, dusky sigh.

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