United States Salieri, Whitacre, Spencer, Smith, Lauridsen: Canton Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Rachel Waddell and Britt Cooper (conductors), Cable Recital Hall, Canton, Ohio. 15.3.2013 (TW)
Antonio Salieri: La Tempesta di Mare (1778)
Eric Whitacre: Water Night (1995)
Williametta Spencer: At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners (1968)
Matt Smith: Lacuna (2012)
Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna (1997)
The Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) “casual series” concerts in Cable Recital Hall are generally chamber music affairs featuring small instrumental ensembles—duos, trios, quartets or quintets. For scaled-down events, the acoustics in this modest hall, which can seat an audience of approximately 140 listeners, are more than suitable.
So the first surprise about this program was that it featured a full chamber orchestra—some 30 pieces—as well as the superb 53-member Canton Symphony Chorus. One might have reasonably anticipated a sound far too deafening for this intimate venue. Surprise number two: Orchestra and chorus, both separately and together, delivered a deeply satisfying aural experience that was clear and balanced in every way.
Of five works, four were by living composers. Each was part of a thematic arc, described by CSO Assistant Conductor Rachel Waddell (who shared the podium with Britt Cooper, Canton Symphony Chorus Director) as a journey through water, earth, and sky. But the evening’s opener was La Tempesta di Mare (Storm at Sea) by Antonio Salieri—not as gripping an evocation of an aquatic adventure as the title suggests, but showing the orchestra in captivating form, if not a little understated in its rendering of lush, graceful textures.
Mr. Cooper followed with two brief a cappella choralpieces: Water Night by Eric Whitacre, and At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners by Williametta Spencer. Whitacre’s text is the eponymous poem by Octavio Paz, and the tantalizing and voluptuous music is replete with haunting, achingly sensual crescendos and harmonies at once medieval and modern. The mystical imagery of the last line lingers with a preternatural resonance: “Night brings its wetness to beaches in your soul.”
No less resonant is the Spencer’s spirituality; she uses a full quotation of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet VII. From the initially exuberant call to angels at the last judgment, to the humility of the repentant sinner at the end, the song is startlingly triumphant. The chorus infused both works with all the subtle, poignant tonal expressivity and dramatic sonority that their poetic content demands.
Matt Smith’s Lacuna, as Waddell carefully noted to the audience, is a thoroughly challenging departure from traditional Western classical structures. It is indeed a rocky journey—a complex sound tapestry threaded through and through with frenetic dissonances, wildly shifting moods, and colliding textures. Call it an exotic and atmospheric flow of consciousness, which Waddell and the singers performed here with riveting intensity. There is a relentless sense of quickly traversing difficult, forbidding terrain, and coming late in the program, it made an eerie yet apropos portal into distinctly more beatific heights attained in the evening’s final piece—or, if you will, final peace.
Orchestra and chorus offered up a stunning, soul-stirring performance of Morten Lauridsen’s brilliant, modern requiem, Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light). Herein there is no hint of torturous, guilt-ridden sorrow—only joyous hope, powerfully enunciated by the inspired chorus. Our attentions were transported to angelic realms immersed in a light that can only be called Divine.
In his introduction, Cooper described the work as “a catharsis to sing.” He hoped it would similarly affect the listeners. In the end, his hopes were realized: the audience was elated, and I suspect even angels were jealous.