Tuesday, March 27, 2012


By Tom Wachunas

The March 22 Aultman PrimeTime concert in Cable Recital Hall was yet another reminder of how the combination of youthful brio and masterful technique make any encounter with the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) a memorable one. This concert spotlighted four CSO principals in string quartet mode: violinist Lauren Roth, newly appointed CSO concertmaster; second violinist Janet Carpenter; violist Zsche Chuang Rimbo Wong; and cellist Michael DeBruyn. The three works on the program - Puccini’s "Chrysanthemums", Haydn’s String Quartet in G Major (Opus 54, No. 1)), and Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 in e minor – provided a richly satisfying experience of tonal colors, textures, and mood shifts.

Puccini’s haunting "Chrysanthemums" (an 1890 elegy to the Duke of Aosta) is a single, continuous movement that was originally written for string quartet, though it is more commonly heard these days as an arrangement for string orchestra. Here, the quartet interpreted the work with inspiring, fluid dignity, drawing out its lush, mournful emotionality without being overly lugubrious. Additionally, the performance quickly established the well-honed balance of timbre and volume among the instruments that remained warm and consistent throughout the concert.

Not surprisingly, the Haydn work was an invigorating romp through pure, airy brightness. Both as an eminently tight unit and as individuals executing the piece’s many ornate passages with superb virtuosity, the quartet served up a deliciously authoritative reading of all the lyric vitality and lilting, even mischievous charm we’ve come to associate with “The Father of the String Quartet”.

What was somewhat surprising to me at first, however, was the work’s placement in the program. With all its happy buoyancy, it surely would have been an appropriate enough conclusion to the proceedings, sufficiently enthralling the audience in the warm glow of its upbeat energy.

Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1, then, though no less rich in variations of tempo and texture, is a comparatively dark, pensive, more emotionally raw and volatile experience. The composer described the work as painting a “tone picture” of his life, and that the four instruments “…should converse together in an intimate circle about the things that so deeply trouble me.” Clearly, the four CSO artists here took Smetana’s words to heart as they deftly rendered this work’s early images of intimate, whispered optimism which soon enough become overshadowed by a heavy sense of foreboding.

As audience, we became privy to a deeply mesmerizing musical conversation about the composer’s yearnings for romance, the hopeful days of his youth, falling in love, dashed dreams, and the onset of total deafness that afflicted him late in his life. The gravitas of this sad development was translated to great effect late in the fourth movement. An abrupt break in the music is followed by a tremulo, above which the solo violin plays an extended, stark and piercing high E note, ultimately signaling the climactic fade to silence. “It is the fateful ringing in my ears,” Smetana wrote of that moment.

So while many concerts are often conventionally designed to leave the audience all atwitter over sonorous panache and aural pyrotechnics, this one ended in a decidedly somber, albeit dramatic spirit. We in the audience didn’t exit the hall with raucous howls of giddy celebration. Yet as I heard the growing murmurs of real approval around me, I can tell you we were nonetheless greatly touched by the compelling and passionate finesse, the quieting caress, of true musical artistry.

Photo, courtesy CSO: Top (left) – Lauren Roth, Janet Carpenter / Bottom: Zsche Chuang Rimbo Wong, Michael DeBruyn www.cantonsymphony.org (330) 452 - 2094

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