Canton Symphony’s 80th Season Opener Climaxes with Respighi

20/10/2017

Barber, Saint-Saëns, Respighi: Lauren Roth (violin), Canton Symphony Orchestra / Gerhardt Zimmerman (conductor), Umstattd Performing Arts Hall, Canton, Ohio. 14.10.2017. (TW)

Barber – Second Essay for Orchestra, Op.17

Saint-Saëns – Concerto No.3 in b minor for Violin and Orchestra

Respighi – Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome

In his program comments celebrating the 80th season of the Canton Symphony Orchestra, music director Gerhardt Zimmermann wrote, “Why do I love conducting this wonderful orchestra?…The CSO is that rare gem of orchestras that conductors seek to make music with. Their playing is committed, heartfelt, powerful, and above all, exciting.”

For the season opener on October 14, that rare gem dazzled with exceptional brilliance, beginning with Samuel Barber’s Second Essay For Orchestra (1942). It’s a marvelous single movement of interwoven, contrasting themes and developments, and represents Barber’s passionately lyrical aesthetic. Here the ensemble perfectly captured the changing moods – a landscape of emotions in sumptuous orchestral colors – with compelling precision and sonority. The briefly tranquil opening theme gave way to darker, more foreboding passages. Those in turn transitioned to more pastoral interludes, with melodic counterpoints that eventually morphed into the majestic and triumphal solemnity of the explosive conclusion. The audience was clearly thrilled.

Lauren Roth, a former CSO concertmaster and now leader of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, returned to Canton to perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ lavish Concerto No. 3. This homecoming was all the more exciting, given that this was the first time Roth performed the concerto with an orchestra, though you’d never guess it from her virtuosic delivery, fluidity, and authority. Roth’s demeanor, at once gently measured and aggressive, was evident in both her stance and facial expressions.

She was communing with not only the ensemble, but also with her instrument, making it sing in a marvelous range, and at times demanding its submission to the many technical challenges. Her playing was especially poignant during the second movement, when the graceful violin melody engaged in a delicate dance with the woodwinds. Throughout, she articulated Saint-Saëns’ lush cadenzas with bravura: ravishing in their fast arpeggios and scales, double stops, and flawless ascensions into high-pitched harmonics.

The rich score for Respighi’s Pini di Roma calls for 92 members strong, a substantially larger group than usual, providing an unprecedented aural depth. While Fountains was utterly enchanting, it was in the final movement of Pines – “the pines of the Appian Way” – when the orchestra became unified in its flamboyance. Respighi described the finale as the “unceasing rhythm of numberless footsteps. A vision of ancient glories appears to the poet’s fantasy: trumpets blare, and a consular army bursts forth in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun.”

A low, rumbling, relentless cadence, suggesting an army on the march, reverberated through the hall in ever-loudening layers, making the heart race. Waves of brassy martial trudging engulfed the audience, augmented by extra players standing in the side aisles. Maestro Zimmermann was particularly animated, turning this way and that, like a general rallying his troops. The final jubilant chord was a piercing blast, as if all of Roman history had passed in a protracted sonic boom.

Tom Wachunas

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