Spirituality and Timelessness from Composers Old and New

United StatesUnited States Weber, Lauridsen, Theofanidis, Borodin: Canton Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Walsh University Chamber Singers, Rachel Waddell and Britt Cooper (conductors), Umstattd Performing Arts Hall, Canton, Ohio, 23.4.2016. (TW)

Carl Maria von Weber: Overture to Oberon

Morton Johannes Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna

Christopher Theofanidis: Dreamtime Ancestors

Alexander Borodin: Polovtsian Dances

For the season’s final concert in the Canton Symphony Orchestra 2015-2016 MasterWorks series, conducting duties were split. Rachel Waddell, CSO Associate Conductor, directed the ensemble in Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to Oberon, and the Ohio premiere of Dreamtime Ancestors by American composer Christopher Theofanidis. Rounding out this spirited program were Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, both for orchestra and chorus, and conducted by CSO Chorus Director Britt Cooper.

In Waddell’s vivacious Weber, there was charismatic fervor—at once spunky and intimate, as if she thoughtfully absorbed every musical passage, whether calm and enchanting, or turbulent. At the same time, she seemed to pour every note back into the ensemble, which eagerly reciprocated, responding with marvelous tonal depth and exuberance.

That same chemistry was all the more apparent after intermission, in the Theofanidis work, a tone poem in three movements from 2015. As Waddell explained, Dreamtime Ancestors is a reference to Australian aboriginal creation myths. The music is a sweeping episodic journey, as visceral as it is ethereal, symbolizing the fusion of past, present, and future into a single living entity containing the stories and potential energy of all of us.

The orchestra was mesmerizing in its suggestions of primordial forces in constant flux and realization. Throughout, there was the sensation of cyclic pulsing, and at times an eerie, dissonant mood, as if something were imminent. In the second movement, an unearthly harmony emerges from a piercing drone from the strings. Finally, in “Each Stone Speaks a Poem,” there’s a sparkling brassy burst—a revelation, as if the earth’s crust is talking. Call it the sound of timelessness.

Certainly not as cosmic in scope, Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances still has a timeless character all of its own. Part of that is no doubt due to one of its central themes, a lovely melody familiar since its adoption for “Stranger in Paradise,” from the 1953 Broadway hit, Kismet. In any event, the performance here, resplendent in orchestral and choral color, was a wild and vigorous end to the evening.

The second piece, the wholly immersive Lauridsen Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light), was arguably the most transfixing of the evening. Composed in 1997, it recalls aspects of the traditional Requiem Mass, but there is little of the morbidity found in Requiems from some famous predecessors. This cathartic masterpiece is about Divine light and its power to transform the darkness of grief and sorrow into peace.

There were moments throughout the five movements, played without pause, when Britt Cooper’s conducting suggested the impassioned and authoritative promptings of an intercessory priest, as the conductor sustained a superb aural balance between orchestra and singers. Both soared without clouding each other. The Canton Symphony Chorus, combined with Walsh University Chamber Singers, enunciated the beautiful polyphonic Latin chants with astonishing clarity, precision, solemnity, and joy.

Such choral magnificence transcends what’s on the page, and becomes something else, even if it’s difficult to name. This was not only great music—this was a baptism.

Tom Wachunas


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