Premiere by Victor Herbert Framed by Rossini and Beethoven

United StatesUnited States  Rossini, Victor Herbert, Beethoven: Alan Rafferty (cello), Seven Hills Sinfonietta, William White (music director), Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Cincinnati, Ohio. 17.11.2013 (RDA)

Rossini: Overture to La Gazza Ladra
Victor Herbert: Suite for Cello and Orchestra No. 3 (American premiere)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8

While he made his living as a cellist in the Stuttgart opera house and court orchestra during the 1880’s, the composer Victor Herbert applied himself to the study of composition under the guidance of a professor at the local conservatory. Judging from the enormous output of works for the stage he composed after coming to America, the young Herbert was a good student, as well as the first to play in the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, and later he reigned as the foremost creator of operettas in his day.

Among Herbert’s early efforts as a composer, there are two substantial works for the instrument closest to his heart. The cello concerto has begun to be played and recorded after being largely ignored for many years. Herbert’s third Suite for Cello and Orchestra would have suffered similar obscurity were it not for the enterprising efforts of curious musicians eager to explore the unexplored repertory available to the noblest of string instruments: both the solo part and the piano score were available from the website VHSource, LLC, while the orchestral parts were located in the reserved stacks of the Cleveland Public Library.

The enterprising cellist Alan Rafferty, a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a faculty member in the College Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati, and a protean “have-cello-will-travel” ambassador, serves in the faculties of several institutions, including the Great Wall International Music Academy in China and his own Cincinnati Young Artists. Rafferty learned the Suite in September, literally weeks before its North American premiere.

Herbert’s Suite has no musical siblings, absent a number one and two, and is structured in five movements. The opening Allegro juxtaposes soloist and orchestra in a back-and-forth exchange of melodic ideas. The brief Scherzo leads to the soulful and cantabile Andante, and that, in turn, moves on to the familiar fourth movement, sometimes played as a piece d’occasion under its title, Serenade. The final section, a lively tarantella, presents the soloist with a veritable technical minefield beneath its glittery surface, replete with Italianate dance rhythms and sunny melodic contours.

It takes a cellist to the manner born to make all this happen seemingly effortlessly, and Rafferty made Herbert’s Suite suitable company for Rossini and Beethoven. His tone has gravity and depth, his bowing has both suppleness and firmness of attack. He plays with style, elegance, spontaneous flair and utmost musicality, giving a composer of “light” music the same attention and care that he would bestow on any canonized master.

The concert opened with the overture to Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), and ended with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8. But the Herbert Suite was the centerpiece of this well-attended afternoon at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Montgomery, part of the ever-growing Greater Cincinnati.


Rafael de Acha


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