The Canton Symphony Orchestra Play in Canton, Ohio

Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Mozart: Matthew Brown (conductor), The Canton Symphony Orchestra, Cameo Concerts series, Players Guild Theatre mainstage, Canton, Ohio, USA, 8.4.2011 (TW)

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture (1830)

Sibelius: Valse Triste (1903)

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (1917)

Mozart: Symphony No.41 (1788)

For this season’s Cameo Concerts series, the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) offers a new format for the first time. The traditionally smaller chamber orchestra was expanded to 31 pieces, and three consecutive concerts transpired at three separate venues – the Players Guild Theatre mainstage in Canton on April 8, Louisville Middle School on April 9, and Lions Lincoln Theatre in Massillon on April 10. This is certainly a refreshing stepping out into Stark County, and one that hopefully won the hearts of those previously unfamiliar with the depth and virtuosity of this marvelous orchestra.

Refreshing, too, was the program, under the distinctly frisky baton of CSO Associate Conductor Matthew Brown. It’s a program that seemed to have built into it a subtly heralding spirit of spring after a particularly brutal winter in these parts. Beginning with the Hebrides Overture by Felix Mendelssohn, at the April 8 performance the strings, with characteristically seamless and voluptuous blending, flawlessly conjured the work’s mystical evocations of wind-swept cliffs and ocean mists hovering above rolling waves.

The second work on the program – Valse Triste (Sad Waltz) by Jean Sibelius – is a brief, haunting meditation with just a hint of dark, foreboding undercurrents. Once again the strings exhibited breathtaking dynamics in capturing the work’s shifts from eerie, silken whispers into moments of strange, shadowy ebullience.

A consistently more overt joyousness is dominant throughout the third work, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1. It was the composer’s youthful nod to Haydn (hence the symphony’s “Classical” appellation). And here the orchestra rose to the occasion with infectious verve and clarity. From the lilting, dance-like first movement, through the pastoral second, and into the whimsical charm of the third, the orchestra was the personification of unfettered optimism as it launched into the idyllic, galloping fourth movement. Particularly memorable were the playfully shimmering and intricate passages with accents from bassoons, flutes and oboe. Indeed, the whole work is a rich tapestry of lavish, tightly interwoven textures that that the orchestra delivered with bedazzling precision.

If there was one shortcoming (though by no means disastrous) in all of this, it was the occasional lack of low-range in the aural resonance of the music. This may be partly due to the acoustics of the Players Guild space, but more likely attributable to the presence of only one bass in the orchestra. Still, it was for the most part a fleeting flaw and, interestingly enough, not too noticeable in the final work, Mozart’s monumental Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”). Remarkably, there were many moments in this phenomenon of symphonic genius wherein the orchestra soared so fully that one might have thought nearly twice the number of pieces were on stage. All told it was a stunning, crisp performance of an iconic masterpiece, effectively embracing all its dignity, grace, and mellifluent melodic power.

This was one eminently satisfying evening that could rightfully be called a movable feast of orchestral delights.

Tom Wachunas