Monday, January 24, 2011

Soaring Soloists: Hot Chops on a Cold Night

Soaring Soloists: Hot Chops on a Cold Night

By Tom Wachunas

In his greeting to the audience at the January 22 concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Maestro Zimmermann spoke with his characteristically avuncular grace and endearing humor. He observed that he didn’t see himself as fitting certain conductor stereotypes to which some listeners may be predisposed – that of the stern, dour-faced taskmaster. There are more than a few performances, he reminded us, when the business at hand gives rise to what he hopes will be noticed as “a twinkle in my eye.” Billed as “Orchestra Showcase,” this concert was just such an occasion, as it featured stellar performances by three orchestra members in solo roles, and clearly demonstrated why Zimmermann, celebrating his 30th CSO season, called this group of astonishingly talented musicians “…truly first class in every way.”

The evening began with a rousing performance of Louis Joseph Herold’s “Overture to Zampa,” the comic opera about a nefarious pirate and his comeuppance. It’s a delightfully rambunctious work, full of richly varied orchestral textures and buoyant melodies, all of it delivered by the orchestra with crisp ebullience.

CSO principal violist Jessica Oudin brought a remarkable, compelling lyricism to her fluid performance of Max Bruch’s “Romance for Viola and Orchestra.” It is a notably sweet and compact work, composed in 1912 amid ‘modernist’ developments in the world of orchestral music. As such it is a testament to Bruch’s steadfast adherence to the waning Romantic era esthetic. Oudin’s playing, with its deep tonal warmth, was masterfully balanced with the orchestra, and a mesmerizing embodiment of poetic nostalgia. This was Oudin’s CSO solo debut and, interestingly if not sadly enough, we learned in Zimmermann’s opening comments that it comes on the heels of her signing on with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Similarly, after this season, CSO Concertmaster Nathan Olson will take on that position with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. So if his performance here of Bartok’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” was his CSO solo swansong at Umstattd Hall, it was an eminently breathtaking one. In the context of this program, which could rightfully be called ‘accessible’ orchestral music, including one of Bartok’s more mature works might stand out as comparatively too cerebral in its pungent tonalities. But this concerto (1907) was an earlier, transitional work, an unfinished love song still connected to late-Romantic era influences, along with some dissonant shadings as the composer was beginning to experiment with folk melodies indigenous to his native Hungary. So you could call its presence here the evening’s moment of gravitas, though certainly a gentle, even hypnotic one. In any event, Olson’s soulful performance of the work’s meandering key changes, along with its steadily nuanced and soaring flights into higher registers, was nothing short of riveting.

So too the flawless performance of Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto in A Major,” featuring CSO principal clarinetist Randy Klein. When played like it was here, Mozart’s abiding fascination with the clarinet, with all its remarkable subtleties of tone, became instantly clear. With effortless control of volume, and seamless negotiation of the work’s challenging and frolicsome scale runs, Klein sustained an enthralling, consistent spirit that breathed palpable joy into one of Mozart’s most piquant works.

He, like the entire orchestra, would shine again during the evening’s finale, the orchestrated arrangement of Liszt’s iconic “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” Finale? Call it an unleashing. Or a release of dramatic jubilance. No mere twinkle in the Maestro’s eye, this was an ecstatic, intense fire.

Next up in the CSO KeyBank MasterWorks series, a full opera performance of “The Barber of Seville” on Sunday, February 27 at Umstattd Hall (inside McKinley High School). Tickets available online at, or by phone at the ticket office, Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., (330) 452 – 2094. Or in person at the ticket office, located upstairs behind Cable Recital Hall in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N., in Canton.

Photo: “Three Musicians” by Pablo Picasso, 1921

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