Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Ravishing Canton Symphony Season Opener

A Ravishing Canton Symphony Season Opener
By Tom Wachunas

    On October 7, as the audience was settling into the recently renovated Umstattd Hall - resplendent with new seating, carpeting and lighting - even the air itself seemed to crackle with anticipation. The Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was about to launch its much- heralded 75th Anniversary Season. And so it was that the CSO didn’t disappoint in rising to the occasion. This was most assuredly a grand, electrifying program.

    Appropriately enough, the evening began with the vivacious Gazebo Dances, among the more popular early works (1972) by American composer John Corigliano. The Rossini-like Overture, with its playful, quickly-changing dance rhythms, is followed by a mischievous, off-beat Waltz, once characterized by the composer himself as “peg-legged.” Then, the festive energy gives way to the slow, haunting theme that opens the Adagio. Throughout the movement, the orchestra played with palpable reverence. Slowly building in volume, and processing through passages both sad (sometimes gently dissonant) and tender, the music eventually arrives at brighter textures and melody, effectively allowing this orchestra to soar into one of the evening’s most rapturous moments. The short Tarantella movement was intensely percussive, brassy and brisk – a delightfully rambunctious conclusion.

    And speaking of rapturous moments, what followed ranks among the most completely mesmerizing performances by a CSO soloist (or any other, for that matter) I’ve ever heard in this hall. Lauren Roth, CSO Concertmaser, was the featured soloist for Gian Carlo Menotti’s Violin Concerto in a minor, composed in 1952. Why this work remains so rarely performed in concert is something of a mystery and a shame, and it’s arguably fair to say that most in the audience (myself included) had never previously encountered this sparkling gem.

    Rich with uncomplicated, intimate melodic themes, the music is emotionally gripping and technically very demanding for the violin virtuoso. With flawless clarity of technique, most notably in the highest register passages, Roth communicated the work’s compelling lyricism with a nimble, infectiously optimistic spirit. It’s certainly the violin that propels this brilliant concerto. Accordingly, the orchestra was vigorous and scintillating in its supportive role, though never overbearing. Even the subtlest whispers of Roth’s unabashedly sweet, warm tonality could be heard. This was truly a world-class performance. Roth didn’t so much ‘play’ the music as own it – and our hearts.

    If her rendering of the Menotti concerto could be likened to an exquisitely woven silk tapestry, then the evening’s final selection was a sprawling, raw canvas laden with impasto hues and translucent washes. Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major is an eminently lush, winding aural journey. With its idiosyncratic forward movement through a ‘landscape’ of craggy peaks and mist-shrouded valleys, the work is a perfect vehicle for displaying the riveting power and versatility of this orchestra.

    Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann’s reading of the work was decidedly impassioned as well as contemplative, allowing its many crescendos and silences, its variable moods and sublime textures, to magically coalesce into a thunderous, triumphant finale.


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