Silk Tapestry and Sprawling Canvas in Canton

United StatesUnited States  Corigliano, Menotti, Sibelius: Lauren Roth (violin), Gerhardt Zimmermann (conductor), Canton Symphony Orchestra, Umstattd Hall, Canton, Ohio (USA), 7.10.2012

John Corigliano: Gazebo Dances (1972)
Gian Carlo Menotti:
Violin Concerto in A minor (1952)
Jean Sibelius:
Symphony No. 2 in D major (1902)

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 as the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was about to launch its much-heralded 75th Anniversary Season. As it turned out, the CSO didn’t disappoint, and rose to the occasion in 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, offbeat Waltz, once characterized by the composer himself as “peg-legged.” Then, the festive energy gives way to the haunting theme that opens the Adagio, which the orchestra played with palpable reverence. Slowly building in volume, and processing through passages both sad and tender (sometimes gently dissonant), brighter textures and melody eventually arrived, soaring into one of the evening’s most rapturous moments. The short Tarantella movement was intensely percussive – brassy and brisk – and made a delightfully rambunctious conclusion.

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

Rich with uncomplicated, intimate melodic themes, the concerto is emotionally gripping and technically demanding – even for a violin virtuoso – and it’s certainly the violinist that propels the piece. With flawless clarity, most notably in the highest registers, Roth was compelling, nimble and infectiously optimistic. Accordingly, the orchestra was vigorous and scintillating in its supportive role, though never overbearing. Even the subtlest whispers of Roth’s sweet, warm tonality could be heard. Giving a world-class performance, Roth didn’t so much ‘play’ the music as own it – and our hearts.

If the rendering of the Menotti concerto could be likened to an exquisitely woven silk tapestry, then the evening’s final selection was a sprawling 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 was impassioned as well as contemplative, allowing its crescendos and silences – and its variable moods and sublime textures – to magically coalesce into a thunderous finale.

Tom Wachunas