Monday, November 1, 2010

Earthy Celestials

Earthy Celestials

By Tom Wachunas

The second chamber music concert in this season’s Aultman Primetime Series by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was a deeply edifying study in maximum delight from an economy of means. Katherine DeJongh, who holds the position of Principal Flute with the CSO, and CSO principal harpist Nancy Paterson, performed a program on October 28 in Cable Recital Hall of nine brief works spanning three centuries that was both imaginatively constructed and marvelously performed.

The first two works on the program – Bizet’s simple and lilting “Menuet from L’Arlesienne” from 1872, and Gluck’s beautifully pastoral “Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from 1774 – were very warmly played. They effectively set the stage for the concert’s longest piece, Vincent Persichetti’s “Serenade No. 10,” from 1957.

The eight short parts of this work comprise a ‘modernist’ montage of various tempi and historic style influences. Yet even at its most modern (including some fascinating percussive harp effects), the work never becomes astringent or inaccessible. More important, through all of the work’s intricate, technically challenging passages, both performers maintained a sure hold on its compelling lyrical undercurrents – an enthralling mix of moods at once pensive and adventurous. At times the music suggests a journey, beginning with a looming storm, then a contemplative walk in the rain (with harp harmonics sounding like the patter of raindrops), and ending a with playful, fast awakening to light.

Lyricism and emotional resonance continued to be very much a part of the next two segments of the program – both 20th century works. Paterson performed two solos – “Tango” and “Rumba” from Carlos Salzedo’s 1943 Suite of Eight Dances – with charming, bright precision. Who would’ve thought that the harp could so powerfully immerse us in such exotic panache? DeJongh followed suit with two riveting flute solos from Astor Piazzola’s “Tango Etudes”, including the achingly melancholic “Lento meditativo.” She played it on the alto flute, haunting the hall with a rich, dark, throaty sound.

The last three works- staples of the flute and harp repertoire – were by Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, and Jacques Ibert. From the melodic nobility of Faure’s “Sicilienne” and the sultry majesty of Ravel’s “Piece en Forme de Habenera,” through the flute’s breathlessly quick scale runs and propulsive harp energy of Ibert’s sparkling “Entr’acte,” the duo was flawless. And just in case that piece’s very last note - like the triumphal stamp of a dancer’s feet – didn’t leave us all smiling (as in fact it did), the encore performance of Francois Gossec’s frolicking and celebratory Tambourine left us decidedly ecstatic.

The combination of flute and harp often has associations with music so innocently ethereal and cherubic that we can too easily perceive it as somehow lacking in classical gravitas. Not surprisingly, we might just as often regard theses aural pleasantries as airy, albeit sophisticated background music. What this concert so brilliantly brought to mind, though, in a manner both poignant and electrifying, is that the combined sounds can be remarkably muscular. And in the skilled hands of DeJongh and Paterson, this music of the angels heralded an ebullient earthiness.

For ticket and concert information on this and the CSO MasterWorks Series, visit

Photo: Flute and Harp Duo, by Leslie Xuereb,

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