Mesmerizing with Mozart, Holst—and Silence

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Holst: Canton Symphony Orchestra, Gerhardt Zimmermann (conductor), Umstattd Performing Arts Hall, Canton, Ohio, 26.04.2014 (TW)

Mozart: Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter” (1788)
Holst: The Planets (1914-1916)


Describing this season’s final concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall brings to mind a bevy of feel-good bromides. Still, none would be more apropos than “out of this world.”

Everything that makes this orchestra truly noteworthy was in full force. With just two works—Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony and Holst’s The Planets—the orchestra under Gerhardt Zimmermann thrilled the capacity audience with its sonority, technical virtuosity and gripping expressivity.

Zimmermann’s reading of Mozart’s greatest symphonic accomplishment was brilliantly balanced in its moderate pacing, precise textures, and affection for the composer’s intricate thematic motifs. That complexity is apparent in the first movement’s melding of pomp with graciousness. Even more so, the second movement is a sumptuous triad moods, by turns contemplative, fiery and calming.

But in the ebullient finale Mozart pulled out all the fugal stops. The coda is a magnificent soundscape of five interwoven melodic elements and the orchestra met its contrapuntal challenges with remarkable clarity and authority. This was no headlong rush into flamboyance, but an impassioned caress of the music’s power.

While The Planets is less complex thanMozart’s famous symphony, it is nonetheless Olympian in its dramatic thrust. Augmenting the score’s cinematic character—on a giant screen above the orchestra—were gorgeous high-definition projections, originally created by filmmaker Duncan Copp in cooperation with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories for a 2009 production by the Houston Symphony. The images were a constantly moving, hypnotic montage of photos from satellites, surface rovers and computer-generated animations of vast alien landscapes.

The orchestra has never been more thunderous, particularly during the tumult of the first movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War,” or more committed to brassy jubilance than in the fourth, “Jupiter.” Balancing out these moments of rattling aural intensity were many powerful passages throughout the work wherein strings, winds and percussion soared into lyricism so crisp and shimmering that the air in the auditorium seemed to crystalize.

As if defying the beautiful mass and poetic gravity of the previous six movements, Holst fashioned his finale, “Neptune, the Mystic,” not as an outward burst of otherworldly wonder, but a diaphanous falling away of melodic fragments.

Like so many meteoric trails of light, the orchestra evanesced into distant harmonies. Then, amid the instrumental fading, the faintest of intonations from an offstage women’s chorus eerily emerged into a wordless cadence that eventually drifted to nothing—a “silence of the spheres” that continues to speak volumes in my memory, days after the concert.

Tom Wachunas

Leave a Comment